Kokomo man loses hand in 2016 firework accident, now has bionic arm

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INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Kendall Keeling, 21, has a Bebionic prosthetic hand.

It’s precise, technologically advanced and intuitive. 

It is also a daily reminder of the moment a mortar firework blew up in his real hand. 

Keeling was three weeks shy of going off to military training camp when the accident happened.

After the firework went off, Keeling’s friends brought him to a local hospital in Kokomo, but doctors quickly transferred him to St Vincent’s trauma unit in Indianapolis. 

It took doctors nearly two months just to clean the wound. 

Then, came the difficult decision of what to do next. 

Doctors at Indiana Hand to Shoulder Center prepared Keeling and his family for multiple reconstructive surgeries, but made no promise that Keeling would gain full function.

Dr. Jeff Greenberg, an orthopedic surgeon with the Indiana Hand to Shoulder Center at St. Vincent Indianapolis, told News 8 his initial consideration was to try to maximize whatever tissues he could.

For Keeling, that wasn’t enough.

“My biggest concern, if I didn’t amputate, was my quality of life. With just this (thumb) much of a grip,” said Keeling.

Before the accident, Keeling loved to camp, fish, hunt, ride his motorcycle and be outside. He told News 8 he wanted all that back.

Two months after the accident, Keeling’s hand was amputated and he was fit for the prosthetic.

He had to relearn muscle movements in his hand in order to operate the bionic hand.

The bionic hand wasn’t covered under his insurance. Fortunately, he received funds from Indiana’s program, Vocational Rehab.

It wasn’t long after the amputation that Keeling was back on the bike.

Keeling now works as a prosthetic lab tech in Kokomo. It’s his hope to inspire other teens in his situation.

While he follows Dr. Greenberg’s advice to leave the fireworks up to professionals, he says he still looks forward to this time of year.

“I wouldn’t change it. I guess I wouldn’t stop it. I would like to, but it made me a better person. A more faithful person. A strong person,” said Keeling.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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