From Power Wheelchairs to Prosthetic Hands — the Gear That’s Changing Lives

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Anthony Carbajal, who is battling ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) throws out the ceremonial first pitch with the help of a pitching machine prior to a baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets Thursday, June 2, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Anthony Carbajal, who is battling ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) throws out the ceremonial first pitch with the help of a pitching machine prior to a baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets Thursday, June 2, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

It was a summer day in 2012 when Bob Richey’s life was changed forever. He was a new college grad, having fun with friends at the beach. Like he’d done so many times before, Richey dove into the surf — but this time, something was off. He broke two vertebrae in his neck and ended up paralyzed from the chest down.

Since then, he’s been using a power wheelchair, which allows him to get around, work as a software engineer, even drive a custom van.

When medical equipment is an absolute necessity — the only way someone can keep going, literally and figuratively — it takes on an outsized role. It must fit right and work right, be accessible and affordable — or the consequences can be grave.

On this episode, we look at the medical gear that’s changing — and even saving — lives. We hear stories about how the ice bucket challenge changed life for people with ALS, the growing role prosthetists are playing in patients’ lives, and the medical device that alerted the bomb squad at the airport.

Also heard on this week’s episode:

  • Remember the robotic hand that Luke Skywalker gets at the end of “The Empire Strikes Back”? Today, we’re closer than ever to making that kind of prosthesis a reality. We get a glimpse at one such model — The Michelangelo — and what it’s taken for Brian Simms to make it work for him.

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