Giving a Hand

Frontiers, Touch

May 20, 2012.

That day, Rafael Angel Sanguino rose from his bed, drank a cup of coffee and set out for work on his 250cc bike, just as he did every day.

And then the wet pavement. The delayed reflex of his hands, hard against the brakes. A text message that made him lose concentration. A bump. A girl who was rushing to work and let go of her steering wheel for a second while painting her lips red.

By the time that Rafael Angel Sanguino, a Venezuelan cellular technician, came to rest on the asphalt, both of his legs were broken, several of his inner organs were seriously damaged, and his left arm was somewhere else entirely.

Doctors and psychologists in a Caracas hospital predicted lifelong disability.

(You know why Latin Americans are so good at writing and producing soap operas? Because the daily reality of this land provides dramatic themes and scenes in dizzying abundance, which makes the screenwriting fairly effortless.)

A convalescent Sanguino received his wife in the hospital. She came with a story tangled on her tongue and new life in her womb: Rafael Angel Sanguino was now a father.

With a child coming into the world soon, the 33-year-old in an intensive care bed decided to shake himself out of a handicapped future, to test that diagnosis of disability and prove it wrong.

With the help of an uncle who works in fabricating prostheses, an assortment of recycled materials and his own professional knowledge of electronics, this heroic Venezuelan character built a new left arm which could help him to continue his job repairing cell phones.

The device is not particularly refined, but it has an alchemy, a very functional kind of magic: there is a press in the prosthetic that helps the cellular technician hold the items he needs to repair; a magnifying glass with a light designed to let Sanguino see more closely those pieces and parts of a circuit; and a series of sensors near his collarbone that respond to the circular motions of his body and allow even greater mobility and precision. "In a hospital bed you have too much time to think,” says Sanguino. “Here, I devised a way to live and return to work.”

Having experienced the accident and invented his way back into his own home and his old job, Sanguino aims to create other specialized machines, wheelchairs, and prosthetics to allow people who have lost a limb to get back into society and into their working lives.

Photo: Ciudad Ccs