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Video: Gator victim gets new arm

By
TODAY contributor
updated 10/13/2008 10:00:06 AM ET 2008-10-13T14:00:06

“Getting a helping hand” took on a whole new meaning for Kasey Edwards Monday when he received a new, high-tech hand to replace the one he lost to a hungry alligator in June.

The high-tech prosthesis, covered with lifelike “skin” and able to rotate at the wrist, replaces one that was covered with a golf glove and had to be rotated manually. The 18-year-old Floridian lit up like a kid at Christmas when his prosthetist presented the technological marvel to him during an interview with co-host Matt Lauer on TODAY.

“That’s awesome,” Edwards said after unscrewing his old hand and snapping on the new one. Looking at the skin, he joked, “Man, that looks like a Halloween something.”

Gifts from God
As he spoke, Edwards used signals from muscles in the stump of his upper arm to rotate the wrist a Halloweenish 360 degrees and flex the fully articulated fingers.

As he watched the hand move, Edwards started to choke up and gently chided Lauer: “You can’t be doing this on live TV with me.”

As Edwards experimented with the new hand, Troy Farnsworth, his prosthetist from Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, glowed with pride. From the day the company heard what happened to Edwards in June and decided to give the plucky young man a $100,000 prosthetic arm called an i-Limb, Farnsworth has been amazed at how quickly Edwards has learned to use it. He was doing things the first day with the arm and hand that most people take weeks to learn.

TODAY
Kasey Edwards (right) with Troy Farnsworth, who helped design Edwards’ artificial limb.
“I think we can all learn something from people like him,” Farnsworth said of Edwards.

The prosthetics expert was referring to Edwards’ incredibly positive attitude. That was evident back on June 25, three days after Edwards lost his arm during an early-morning swim in a Florida canal. Talking to Lauer from a hospital then, Edwards had managed to laugh even as he described being attacked by an 11 ½-foot alligator and fighting it off by gouging its eye.

At the time, Edwards credited divine intervention with saving his life. Today, he maintains that it was God’s plan that he lose his arm, and God’s gift that he was given a new one.

Edwards told Lauer Monday that, back in June, he heard people say that his positive attitude was due only to the fact that the realization of what had happened hadn’t set in yet. “I tried to tell everybody it set in when I tried to swim back across that canal with one arm. From that point on, I’m just ready to face life,” he told Lauer.

No limitations
An avid outdoorsman, Edwards was afraid after losing his arm that he wouldn’t be able to fish and hunt anymore. But the new i-Limb comes with special attachments that replace his everyday hand that allow him to pursue his passions.

Lauer asked Edwards if it’s true that he can do all the things he used to do.

TODAY
Kasey Edwards received a new, more lifelike prosthetic hand on TODAY.
“I’ve got proof,” he said. “I can go out there and go hunting, go fishing, not be self-conscious when I go out with my buddies that I can’t do the same things they can do.”

It’s all in how you look at life, Edwards went on, saying, “You have limitations if you see yourself having them.”

And Edwards doesn’t see himself as having limitations, only endless possibilities.

Before losing his arm, Edwards was learning to be a welder. But since the alligator attack, he’s decided to go to college and study history and political science with an eye toward getting into politics.

It was on June 25 that Edwards had told Lauer of losing his arm just three days earlier, in a canal leading from Lake Okeechobee in central Florida. After an afternoon spent swimming and drinking beer at Vero Beach, Edwards and some friends had gone to hang out along the canal.

A fateful dive
In that interview, Edwards denied allegations that the group were intoxicated at the lake, pointing out that they had stopped drinking beer before they left Vero Beach around 6 p.m. with a designated driver. “It was 2 o’clock Sunday morning at this time. Nobody was intoxicated at all,” he told Lauer.

They had seen alligators, and when Edwards stripped off his shirt and announced he was going to take a swim in the canal, his friends tried to dissuade him. But Edwards dove in anyway, and swam across the canal and then parallel to a row of buoys that lined the far bank.

“I’d grown up around alligators as a little boy, swimming in the canals and the lakes,” the crew-cut 18-year-old explained. “They never really bothered me.”

TODAY
The gator that took Kasey Edwards’ arm measured more than 11 feet long.
As Edwards swam along the buoy line, his friends saw the big gator swimming after him. They screamed and yelled, but the water muffled what they were saying.

Alligators kill by clamping onto their prey and dragging it underwater to drown it. Edwards knew that’s what the animal that had his arm in its huge jaws was going to try to do.

“It did what they call a death roll,” Edwards told Lauer in June. “It pulled me under the water about five times, and I kept holding onto the cable as it pulled me under.” That’s when he said he felt that God helped him keep his head above water. Finally, Edwards heard his left arm crack, and the alligator let go of him long enough to swallow the limb.

‘So lucky’
“At that point I didn’t realize that I had lost my arm,” said Edwards, whose only thought was to swim back across the canal to his friends and help. But the gator, having polished off its appetizer, came back for the main course. It hit the young man in the stomach, cutting him and knocking the wind out of him. But Edwards fought back.

“I gouged its eye, and at that time it swirled away and I began to try to swim back to the other side of the bank,” he said. “At that time I realized I was kind of swimming a little bit to the right and not as fast, and I realized I was missing most or all of my left arm.”

He could smile back then at something he seemed to view more as an adventure than a tragedy. And he was smiling even more on Monday as he experimented with his new hand.

“I feel just so lucky,” Edwards had said in an earlier prerecorded report that showed him using his hand and arm in his everyday life. “So lucky to be here.”

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