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Cutting-Edge Technology Helps Woman Who Lost Hand During Sandy

Suzanne Vitale's Prosthetic Hand

Physical education teacher Suzanne Vitale is using a prosthetic hand after losing her hand during Superstorm Sandy. (Credit: CBS 2)

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Superstorm Sandy

MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Many people lost homes and property in Superstorm Sandy, but one Long Island woman lost a lot more.

But as CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider reported, with the help of some very modern technology, Suzanne Vitale is making an amazing recovery. She is finally putting her left hand back to work – in prosthetic form – after five long months.

“I can put my blow dryer in here,” Vitale said. “It’s a miracle right now.”

The Mineola physical education teacher suffered more than most in the wake of Sandy. She literally lost a part of herself.

“I knew my hand was in trouble while I was laying there waiting for them to lift the Jeep. I knew I was in trouble right away,” Vitale said. “I felt it.”

Vitale was fleeing her storm-damaged home back in October when she got to an intersection where the lights were out. A car smashed into the back of her Jeep, and it flipped.

Vitale’s left hand went through an open window, and was crushed by the weight of her car.

“People came and lifted the truck,” she said. “I don’t know who they are, I don’t know, and they saved my life. They lifted my Jeep and saved me.”

But the rescuers could not save Vitale’s hand. Now, she is working to master the cutting-edge technology of an electric prosthetic hand.

In order to make the prosthetic hand work, patients have to retrain their muscles and their brains, firing off electrical signals to open the hand and close it.

“Every time you fire a muscle, it emits electricity. We capture that electricity from the specific muscle and convert that to motion,” said Daniel Bastian of Progressive Orthotics and Prosthetics.

Vitale works two times a week with Bastian. She plans to get back to teaching gym class by the fall.

“That’s the goal — to get back to work, to get back to life,” she said.

The electric hand technology was developed in 2011. Only 200 hands are in use across the country.

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