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Woodworking vet gets grip with prosthesis

By BY ARLO TAYLOR/Central Arkansas Veterans Health System Public Affairs

This article was published July 1, 2018 at 12:00 a.m.

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Navy veteran Fred Fuquay, left, and Steve Street, a prosthetist with the Central Arkansas Veterans Health System, observe the dexterity of Fuquay’s new articulating hand prosthetic during a fit check May 22 at the CAVHS Prosthetics Service Clinic. After Fuquay lost his middle and pinkie fingers in a workplace accident, health-system specialists provided him a custom-fit titanium and carbon-fiber device that gives him greater mobility, dexterity and hand function.

HOT SPRINGS — A Hot Springs veteran is reaching for a better life, thanks — literally — to a hand he received May 8 from the Central Arkansas Veterans Health System Prosthetic Service.

Navy veteran Fred Fuquay’s life changed dramatically in November 2016 when his middle and pinkie fingers were cut off during an accident at the woodshop where he worked as an artisan. His specialty was intricate woodcarving, woodworking, rock sculpting and one-of-a-kind mixed-media arts — all things that take a delicate touch and intricate dexterity.

On Christmas 2016, Fuquay received a plastic novelty toy finger as a gag gift from his sister, and for more than a year, he used the simple gift to enhance his dexterity.

In early 2018, Fuquay visited the CAVHS Prosthetics Lab to see if the staff could replace his makeshift prosthetic.

“I went in on a whim to see if they could make me a replacement for it, … just something I could use to help me grab things,” Fuquay said. “They looked at my fingers and thought I’d be a good candidate for articulating fingers.

“It blew my mind that we went from talking about getting a couple of rubber fingers to this [titanium and carbon-fiber device].”

The CAVHS Prosthetic Services staff met with Fuquay and determined he would be a good fit for the new articulating hand.

“At the time, I thought we could only provide nonfunctioning silicone fingers, which wouldn’t improve much from his novelty finger,” said Steven Street, CAVHS prosthetist. “This device was new on the market, and it seemed [like an opportunity] to provide Mr. Fuquay greater mobility and [hand] function.”

Street said Fuquay’s undeterred drive to continue his normal activities has helped him adapt to the new appendages.

“He had the determination and desire to have something that would help him use his hand in everyday activities,” Street said. “I’m very impressed and excited with Mr. Fuquay’s progress. He has really improved in range of motion and function very well.

“I feel humbled every day on what the veterans can accomplish with the items we provide.”

It had been a struggle for Fuquay to hold onto tools, grip art supplies and get dressed using only the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. The new device has improved his stability, dexterity and sense of touch and “feel” that he lost in his accident.

“It’s just like having my real fingers back!” he said. I can actually paint, hammer, saw. … I ran a chain saw and a tree saw yesterday. I did some work on my truck — grabbing nuts and bolts to put in place. I’ve been able to do whatever I need with [the hand].”

Small tasks once taken for granted remind Fuquay how far he has come in such a short time. He said he joyfully laughed the first time he could grip a small screwdriver with his new fingers.

“I laughed about it because I could feel the touch of the screwdriver through the rubber fingertips. And that’s what’s amazed me. … I can close my eyes, touch things, and I actually ‘feel’ things through these fingers,” Fuquay said.

“I never dreamt in my life that I would have something like this and get as much use of them as I can,” he said. “This is like a miracle, a blessing. I am doing things every day that I wasn’t doing before.

“I’m impressing myself every day learning what I can do and how far I can push myself as my dexterity increases. I’m thankful for [Veterans Affairs] providing me with this [hand]. As I get to where I can use my fingers better, I hope to start proving to companies that I can be a valuable employee again.”

Helping make veterans whole again is the CAVHS Prosthetics Service’s mission. The joyful emotion Fuquay shared at his device fitting reminded staff members of their passion for helping veterans.

“This is why we are here each day — to assist a veteran in overcoming disability and increasing their independence,” said Eunice Biddle-Davis, CAVHS chief of Prosthetic Services. “I’m pleased the clinic staff was able to meet his need and exceed his expectations by providing a device that can compensate for his missing fingers.

“I’m proud to be part of this service and that we can make such a difference in a veteran’s life and livelihood.”

Fuquay has nothing but praise for the entire staff he has encountered as a patient at CAVHS. He said quick, efficient and caring service has been the norm from his experience here — he has zero complaints.

“Everything I have come in for — from the process of getting the appointments, to exams to see what I needed — has been superb,” he said. “I came here looking for just a little rubber finger, and now I have articulating fingers.

“I can’t thank the VA enough. They have truly given me back a lot that I lost.”

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