Recovering U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert has ditched his old-fashioned splint in favor of a custom-made exoskeletal version that helps him open his hand amid nerve and possible tendon damage.
Lippert, the ambassador to South Korea, was attacked last month in Seoul when a man shouting "no to war training" lunged at him with a 10-inch blade, hitting his face and left hand, authorities said. Lippert, 42, needed 80 stitches and had to undergo surgery.
Lippert's "dynamic splint" was custom made for him at Severance Hospital in South Korea, Lippert wrote on his Facebook page. He said it immobilizes his wrist, supports his fingers and allows him to strengthen and move his hand.
"It is an amazing apparatus, one I haven’t seen before -- so innovative and creative," he said, adding that the hospital was able to construct it quickly. "It is very comfortable and has made a huge difference in my recovery as I am able to hold things in my hand. This is of particular importance when I am walking Grigsby, as I often need two hands to manage Grigsby!"
Grigsby is his dog, a basset hound.
The splint includes a wrist brace and metal beams that stick out over the back of each of his fingers and attaches via little elastic bands, said Vanderbilt University engineering professor Michael Goldfarb, who has built several similar devices here in the United States, but did not build Lippert's.
It is similar to the devices some stroke victims need to wear during their recovery, Goldfarb said, adding that it is not powered.
Devices like this help patients open their hands, suggesting that nerves used to open his hands -- but not close them -- were damaged in the attack, Goldfarb said.
"The nerves that help him grasp things to close his hand are probably unaffected by the injury," Goldfarb said. "But the nerves that help him open his hand were probably damaged."
Goldfarb said it's "hit or miss" which nerves are damaged in an attack like Lippert's. If the nerves are fully cut, he may need to wear the brace permanently. If not, they may take months to begin to come back, and more than a year to show significant progress, he said.
It's also possible Lippert's tendons were damaged, said Dr. John Krebbs, an orthopedic hand surgeon at U.H. Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. If Lippert's tendons are healing, the device helps him open his hand without further injuring the tendons, Krebbs said. They have to continue to move because immobilizing them would cause scar tissue to form around them, he said.