KHY Antoniazzo could well be the Shoalhaven's first "bionic man".
The 19-year-old suffered a traumatic brain injury after a motor vehicle accident two years ago. While he was in hospital in a coma, he suffered a stroke that paralysed the left side of his body.
Massive amounts of rehabilitation helped him regain the use of his leg, although he does wear an electronic device to help control his foot.
His left arm remained virtually non-responsive - a tough proposition for the left-handed youngster from Worrigee.
But thanks to a collaboration between his caseworker/physiotherapist Damien Barratt, who works with Illawarra Brain Injury Service, and prosthetist and orthotist, Jens Baufeldt, of X-tremity Prosthetics and Orthotics in Nowra, regaining full use of his arm is a possibility.
In what is believed to be an Australian first, Khy has been fitted with a new Myoma (My Own Motion) MyoPro powered arm and hand orthosis (brace) designed to help restore function to paralysed or weakened upper extremities.
Electrodes in the device pick up muscle-innervated signals, nerve and electrical pulses, and helps Khy perform actions and daily activities that might otherwise be impossible.
"I woke up after the accident with my left side completely not working," Khy said.
"My neurological pathways were severed during the accident but they are reactivating and appear to be slowly coming back.
I'm going pretty good compared to where I was two years ago. I was bed bound and wheelchair bound - now Im walking around with a robot arm that costs more than a new car - it's pretty cool.Khy Antoniazzo
"I just have to get the muscle and brain pathways to return and eventually I will hopefully recover the use of my left arm and get some of my independence back.
"It feels amazing. I haven't been able to use my left hand for the past two years and I was left handed."
A battery driven motor allows the device to open and close Khy's arm at the elbow.
"The machine will allow Khy to straighten his arm," Jens said.
"Often it is impossible for people who suffer strokes to straighten their arm, or vice versa to bend it - they get stuck with their arm tucked into their chest and can't straighten it."
"This machine pics up on Khy's electrical muscle impulses and allows him to voluntarily straighten his arm when he relaxes," Damien said.
"Alternatively if he wants to lift his arm it also assists in that."
There are various settings within the device which allow Khy to activate different parts of his arm.
The device, which weighs between 500 grams and a kilogram, comes from the United States and is imported to Australia by Melbourne-based company NeuroMuscular Orthotics (NMO).
In something like a scene out of the Terminator, the device works to move his arm, complete with sound effects.
"I do feel like a bionic man," Khy said.
Seemingly easy bimanual tasks that we take for granted every day like opening a door with a key, getting your wallet out of your pocket and opening it, holding a saucepan with one hand and stirring with the other were all impossible.
While so many young people nowadays are heavily into their phones and gaming, for Khy it's a battle - playing a computer game is impossible.
It is hoped by retaining those fine motor skills in the right hand and getting use of his left hand life can be "semi normal".
Jens, who has worked in this field previously and builds a number of different prosthetics at his Nowra-based business, spotted the device during a presentation at a conference and having worked with Damien for a few years, straight away thought of Khy.
"NMO supply and support the device," Jens said.
"These devices have been used in the US for the past three or four years."
"We managed to get Khy a trial and then got funding approved through icare, a Lifetime Care and Support program for people who have catastrophic injuries due to motor vehicle accidents. A no fault scheme," Damien said.
It’s almost like a scene out of the Terminator - sensors pick up the electrical muscle pulses and a small battery driven motor allows the arm to move and retrain itself - it even comes with its own sound effects.
"It's a pretty generous scheme, sure you have to justify everything, but if you can prove it is reasonable and necessary they are likely to support it.
"Khy, only being 19, and being able to possibly regain use of his arm fitted that bill."
"We were stoked that the funding body came to the party," Jens said.
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"As medical staff and practitioners we see the need is there and to justify the cost is always the hard work."
"Khy has had hundreds and hundreds of hours of therapy but that hadn't really achieved any function," Damien said
"I think what got us across line was a video of Khy attempting tasks - picking up things like blocks."
And Damien, who also works with a lot of stroke patients and people with spinal cord injuries, is hopeful the device might have multiple applications.
Khy tested a device for a few weeks.
"We were able to see the different muscles signals and nerve signals coming good and really differentiate themselves," Jens said.
"And that's why Khy has been able to use it, which is not always a given. If the nerves are severed, they don't usually come back."
"It feels amazing," Khy said just 40 minutes after having his new device fitted, proudly showing off his fingers moving and his arm now able to bend and open at the elbow and move away from his body.
"This is just incredible. Hopefully this can lead to me again having full use of my left arm.
"I'm left handed and have had to learn how to do everything with my right hand,
"It's been a long journey."
Damien has worked with Khy for two years after he was discharged from Liverpool Brain Injury Unit. Initially he was Khy's physio. When Khy turned 18 Damien became his caseworker.
"The change in Khy has been amazing," he said.
This is just incredible. Hopefully this can lead to me again having full use of my left arm and get some of my independence back. Its been a long journey.Khy Antoniazzo
"We feel, over time he will actually get function back in his arm. And hand too. There should be that level of plasticity, the brain starts to re-learn - that's what we're hoping."
The unit cost just under $70,000 and Khy's therapy will continue to ramp up in the next few months.
"When I first got the machine for the trial I was out of my mind," he said.
"I was like 'wow' - it felt weird - I was a bit teary because of what we've done over the last two years I finally felt I might be alright."
He will continue his rehabilitation with Nowra Allied Health Care Centre with the Bashams.
"I'm going pretty good compared to where I was two years ago. I was bed bound and wheelchair bound - now I'm walking around with a robot arm that costs more than a new car - it's pretty cool."
Currently at TAFE, Khy hopes to be able to eventually do some public speaking to people with brain injuries or who have been affected by car accidents.
"I want to let them know it's going to be okay," he said.
"You might not be able to use your arm but you're still here."
Jens said it is hoped by telling Khy's story it might encourage other people with similar injuries or presentations to come out of the woodwork and approach them to see what can be done.
"So many people just accept a flail arm and accept that is their life. But if the nerve signal is there it's just a matter of reactivating it," he said.
"Sure it is a process, especially if the injury happened a few years ago, but it doesn't need to be a hindrance - you can get an arm back."