MELBOURNE — What price does one put on an arm? A man who lost his recently during a fierce battle with an alligator, has a new one worth $110,000.
Kasey Edwards jumped into a canal near Lake Okeechobee about 2:30 a.m. June 22, apparently to replicate a high school stunt. Moments later, he felt as if a giant pair of pliers had clamped down on his left arm.
It was an 11 ½-foot alligator.
"I touched him. He felt like a rock," Edwards said from his hospital bed at Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne.
The massive alligator was trying to drag him down in the 25-foot canal.
The reptile tried to twist. "The death roll," the construction worker thought.
Edwards grabbed a buoy line to keep from being dragged under. He freed himself by poking the alligator in the eye.
Then, Edwards tried to swim to shore where his friends, who had tried to talk him out of jumping moments before, waited frantically.
But what had been his left arm now was a jagged piece of flesh. He paddled painfully toward the bank with his right arm.
Edwards was taken to a hospital in his hometown of Okeechobee, but later flown to Holmes. He had lost his left arm from above the elbow.
"It could have been worse," Edwards said. "I was staring at death."
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 17 deaths from alligator attacks have been reported in Florida since 1948.
"I am lucky," Edwards said.
At the hospital, Edwards said that it felt as if his left arm was asleep.
"I feel like I'm going to see it any moment," he said.
Now, Edwards sees a completely different image — a high-tech, carbon-fiber titanium prosthetic limb and hand, courtesy of Hanger Orthotics in Orlando and Touch Bionics in Scotland.
Alistair Gibson, Hanger's area practice manager in Orlando, and Troy Farnsworth with Hanger in Salt Lake City, designed and crafted the prosthetic arm and "I-limb" hand. Inside the prosthetics are computers and microprocessors that interpret signals from Kasey's brain to work the new arm and hand, much the way the real ones do.
By flexing the biceps and triceps muscles that weren't torn away by the alligator, Kasey is learning to use his new bionic body part, powered by lithium batteries.
Gibson, a prosthetist who moved to Orlando from Scotland, began working with Edwards in August and sees him from time to time to fine tune Edwards' new apparatus.
"When we met Kasey, we evaluated what he's capable of doing, what he did before the trauma and what he wants to do in his life," Gibson said. "It's great to work with people of Kasey's age because the younger they are, the less hesitation they have to do something. He was easy to work with. He's a very intelligent kid, and he was able to give us good feedback along the way."
Gibson, who has a bachelor of science degree in biomedical engineering and a master's degree in prosthetics, believes Edwards will eventually be able to live a life very much like his old one.
The new arm, which weighs about 5 pounds, a little less than a real arm, might not be the reality it is had it not been for the generosity of others, Gibson said.
He said Inner Wheel — a charitable organization — Hanger Orthotics and Touch Bionics all donated the $100,000-plus cost.
Gibson, who has been in the field for 20 years, said it feels good to help someone out without any financial restrictions.
"It's all about trying to make someone's life better," he said.