To recover Cindy’s ability to write in her own handwriting, her prosthetist molded a leftover scrap of silicon into a custom-fitted device, and lodged a pen into it.
After a long process of getting on her feet with the help of below-knee prosthetics, Cindy found herself missing something beyond her basic functionality. At a visit to Greig Martino, her prosthetist at United Prosthetics in Boston, she mentioned how much she missed her own handwriting. She'd long been someone who sent thank you notes and letters by post, and, despite the ready availability of speech-to-text for sending emails, composing a note in her own hand was key to that practice. Greig and his team got to work. The result: “When I sent something to people, they asked me how I got it in my own handwriting,” she told us. Cindy added that she was thrilled that “people noticed, and that the writing was good enough to surprise them. They were expecting worse handwriting, but they got mine. It’s the small triumphs. Woohoo!”
Greig, his brother Gary, and a long-time employee Henry Adorno worked to prototype a leftover scrap of silicon into a custom-fitted device: a simple molded cap that would precisely fit Cindy's residual right hand. Once they got the shape right, they pierced the cap in two places, lodging a pen at the proper angle for Cindy to write. It took a couple of tries and readjustments. But now the pen not only allows Cindy to write—it's also her own handwriting that's produced, a surprise even to Cindy. Where most of her devices are organized around general utility, the pen is different: it's something she wanted, to feel significantly able to just live her life as she had before the heart attack—even doing activities that may seem trivial but are deeply meaningful, like writing thank you notes.
It's not unusual for the Martinos to build custom devices when they can. Greig says it's part of the shared skill set among him and his brothers—one who's good at the initial ideas, one who's adept at fabrication, and so on. It's part of the R&D culture that United cultivates when it can: creating augmentations from scratch to complement the medically standardized limbs and braces that are their stock in trade. Cindy's custom pen is an object lesson in design-for-one, an elegant example of design that's just enough and no more. "It's an old-fashioned device," Greig told us. "But it's an optimum technology here, because it suits what she needs."