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Bionic hand helps first-grader starting school in Saitama Pref.

First-grader Ryosuke Sato uses his bionic hand to crush an empty milk carton during his school lunchtime in Saitama Prefecture on April 11, 2019. (Mainichi/Yuki Miyatake)

A bionic hand is making life easier for a 6-year-old boy who started elementary school in Saitama Prefecture north of Tokyo this month, while drawing the curiosity of his classmates.

The first-grader, Ryosuke Sato, was born without a left hand. He borrowed a myoelectric hand from a bionic hand bank for children set up by a Hyogo prefectural rehabilitation hospital in the city of Kobe in western Japan, and has trained with it since the age of 3 with the help of the University of Tokyo Hospital in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward.

Myoelectric hands are controlled by faint electric muscle currents. During his first school lunchtime, Ryosuke finished drinking his milk and managed to crush the carton with the bionic hand. His surprised classmates remarked, "It really moves!" and "It's more powerful than I thought." Earlier when he had just started school, some students had asked him, "Why don't you have a hand?" and "Does it move?"

Users of myoelectric hands can have most of the cost of the devices subsidized if they pass adaption training at medical facilities. Even so, the price of many devices runs as high as 1.5 million yen. Myoelectric hands are not widely recognized among healthcare professionals in Japan. Moreover, there are few training facilities for children, so their use has not yet spread greatly across the country.

Ryosuke is happy to have entered school. "I enjoy my school life," he says. His mother Hidemi, 43, commented, "He can do more things now thanks to the myoelectric hand. I want more people to know that the devices exist."

(Japanese original by Yuki Miyatake, Photo Group)

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