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patient stories

Karl Chapin

San Antonio’s Karl Chapin, believes his extraordinary life has received a futuristic boost, after being fitted with the very latest multi-articulating, myo-electric, bebionic3 hand.

Karl, who lost his hand at the age of 18, as a paratrooper during the Vietnam War, in the A Shau Valley, has constantly sought new challenges. He has been a skydiving instructor, karate instructor, scuba diver, race car driver, volunteer kidney donor and prize-winning golfer. However, he has often been frustrated by the limiting technology available for his artificial arm.

Karl Chapin
Karl Chapin play video

Now, free of such limitations with his newly fitted ‘‘Terminator-style” bebionic3, Karl hopes that his remarkable story will be an inspiration to others. He said:

“I remember how I lost my arm very clearly. It was 3am and three fire bases in the valley were hit at once by the Vietcong. I looked down towards one of the perimeter bunkers, heard someone yelling for a medic and ran down to help. I found a wounded soldier in a foxhole. I picked him up and put him on my shoulder but when I looked down between my legs, there was a hand grenade. I didn’t think, it was instinctive, I just picked up the grenade and pushed it into the wall of the foxhole.”

The explosion took Karl’s hand and blew both men from the foxhole. Instead of panicking, or considering his own injuries, he picked up his fellow wounded soldier and carried him to safety. His extraordinary character and bravery won Karl the Purple Heart and a bronze star.

These days, Karl is a busy and active man: a patient advocate, hunter, fisherman, golfer and bowler, as well as a successful and experienced prosthetic user. He has used myo-electric hands for 15 years and had described himself as a man with an ‘arm box’: literally a box filled with prostheses for different tasks. However, after just a few weeks with his bebionic3, Karl found that the arm box was practically redundant:

“I’ve had every [myo-electric] hand there is and this can do everything I’ve ever wanted. The speed, the grip strength and the multi-functions make it unique. It’s also incredibly accurate and strong too. The fact I can customize this hand to suit my life is amazing.”

Karl has found the bebionic3 truly enabling. He can do anything, from operating the car remote to pressing the buttons on the radio in the car. He can carry four bags of shopping and pick up a can from the supermarket shelf as easily as he can hand out candy to children on Halloween. The high-tech appearance attracts a lot of attention and Karl is very happy to show how it works:

“It makes me feel good to wear it. I’ve spent 40 years trying to hide the prosthetic hand I’m wearing, but not this, I don’t want to hide this. People are really impressed with its quickness and dexterity. I’ve fallen in love with this hand. It’s the best. It outdoes everything, and I’ve had them all.”

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