Isabella Chantre, born with a complete left arm only up to the elbow: «My new life with a bionic hand»

Isabella Chantre, born with a complete left arm only up to the elbow: «My new life with a bionic hand»


OfRuggiero Corcella

Isabella Chantre, 52, was born with a complete left arm only up to the elbow. She, together with 12 other people, is experimenting with Hannes, the robotic limb created by Iit Genova and Inail. “I want to keep him forever”

What is hidden behind one bionic hand? A lot of research, a lot of technology, a lot of commitment. And then there is everyday life. That of the people who wear it. If you are curious to know what this life is really like, watch the reels (videos) posted on Instagram by #maryelisabethvalley, born Isabella Chantre. She is a 52-year-old Milanese woman, English on her mother’s side and Swiss-Italian on her father’s side, mother of Matteo, Pietro and Beatrice (25, 22 and 19 years old) and “mistress” of two splendid Australian shepherds, Dylan and Blue.

She was born with a complete left arm only up to the elbow, Isabella. In May 2023, you saw on social media the video of a journalist filming Chiara Storchi – researcher of the joint Iit-Inail laboratory, Rehab Technologies of IIT Genoa and also without a hand – who was holding a paper cup with «Hannes».

Hannes is the robotic-derived prosthetic hand created by Iit-Inail in 2018, which allows patients to return approximately 90 percent of the functionality of a natural limb.

How it works Hannes

Hannes is very similar to a human hand and having been developed directly with patients, it is of practical use. Following some pilot studies conducted on amputees at the Inail Prosthetic Center, it was discovered that after a training period of approximately one week people could use it independently at home to carry out daily tasks. The prosthesis consists of a myoelectric system which can be worn all day, adaptable to different disabilities of the upper limbs.

An array of surface electromyographic sensors, located in a customized socket, detects the activity of the residual muscles of the limb, which are actively contracted by the patient to perform multiple movements. Furthermore, through dedicated software and a Bluetooth connection, it is possible to customize the operating parameters of the hand, such as the precision and speed of movements.

The “grace” of the bionic hand

“I stayed literally struck by Hannes’ grace, from this natural movement that I am still in love with”, she says. So she got in touch with Chiara and in September she was invited to Genoa at the Center for Convergent Technologies of Iit.

«They showed me the Institute and then Giulia Caserta, also from Rehab Technologies, told me: “Do you want to try Hannes”? I couldn’t wear it, because a “container”, i.e. a special sheath, is needed which connects the stump with the custom-made prosthesis. But they connected Hannes’ sensors to me on his arm and I was able to try it. I felt happy like a little girl. They even took a video and I have a smile that goes from one side of my face to the other. In short, a great emotion. I never thought I would be able to try it, because I was born without a hand; therefore, I have no idea what it means to have the second hand.”

Enrollment in the trial

The Iit researchers then proposed that she participate in the experimentation on Hannes, together with the other 12 candidates already enlisted. «And so, in September 2023, my story with Hannes began. Of course I was over the moon. Having this great opportunity was a dream and what I also really like about this whole story is being able to contribute to research in some way, to have my say on how this hand works so as to help other people in the same condition as me.”

The first robotic limb at 9 years old

From bionic hands, Isabella already tried one when she was 9 years old. «My parents bought it from Inail back in 1981. It was one of the first “myoelectrics”. Sincerely I quite hated it, perhaps because I was also small, so it seemed very heavy, uncomfortable, and then I had really limited movement and it bothered me more than anything else. I only used it to hold my pole when I skied, but then it got stuck. In short, I don’t have good memories, I never used it and I didn’t like it at all aesthetically. I put it in a drawer and it’s still there». Since then Isabella has only worn a cosmetic prosthesis, also searching for models more beautiful than her in Switzerland.

The small gestures that count

But Hannes turned her life upside down, in a positive way. “When I saw her, I never looked for anything else.” Video clips published on Instagram they exude happiness in every small gesture that the bionic hand allows them to perform: using the pepper mill, taking a towel and shaking it on the balcony, tying their shoes, holding Dylan and Blue on a leash with Hannes and at the same time a bag in the other hand. All alone.
“It’s a very strange feeling, so beautiful that it’s difficult to describe,” he adds.

Trial concluded: now what?

The three months of experimentation are over, but Isabella will be able to keep Hannes a little longer. «But I would like to continue using it every day. Unfortunately the bionic hand it is not yet marketed and it seems that it will take a few more years to put it on sale.”

How much will Hannes cost and the NHS contribution

How much will it cost? Between 12 and 17 thousand euros, let it be known by Iit. The others already on the market and with similar functionality have a price of 35-40 thousand euros and up.

The National Health Service covers approximately 7 thousand euros of expenditure, for civil disabilities. Inail, on the other hand, covers the entirety in the case of work-related disability.

«Testimonial» on Instagram

Meanwhile, Isabella will continue her work as a “testimonial” on Instagram: “I wish the pictures of bionic hands would go a little viral, like seeing nice socks, nice lipstick. And that people would no longer be shocked by a beautiful bionic hand that serves, that works, worn with a proud smile. At the same time, I would also like to send the message that there is no shame in wearing a prosthesis. There’s nothing wrong with it and it can be beautiful.”

March 23, 2024

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