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'Iron Man' constructs prosthetic forearms

China Daily | Updated: 2018-12-06 07:40

CHANGCHUN - When they hear loud popping or crackling noises from a workshop, residents in a small village in Northeast China's Jilin province know the "Iron Man" is working.

"Iron Man" Sun Jifa is a 65-year-old farmer in Yongji county, in the city of Jilin. What makes him different is his self-made iron forearms, which enable the armless man to use a mobile phone, play chess, saw timber and even drive a tractor.

Sun lost his forearms in an explosion when he was developing a fishing device in 1980. He could not afford to buy a prosthesis. His wife and mother had to help him put on his clothes, brush his teeth, eat and even go to the bathroom after the accident.

"I felt like the sky had fallen. I just wanted to die. But my wife was pregnant, and my forthcoming baby gave me the hope and courage to live on," Sun said ahead of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which fell on Monday this year.

Sun decided to fabricate a pair of forearms by himself.

'Iron Man' constructs prosthetic forearms

Sun guided his brother to nail a spoon to a piece of rubber and wrapped the simple device around his broken arm. It enabled him to eat by himself. Then he started fabricating more complicated arms using iron, plastic and rubber, which made it look to casual observers that he still had both his arms.

However, he was not content with the prosthetic devices. As a farmer, he needed functional devices that would allow him to do manual labor jobs.

Sun set up a workshop to develop and manufacture prosthetic arms in 2007. Extensively studying mechanics and engineering, he assembled a device with rubber fingers. Controlled by the movements of the shoulders and upper arms, the device enabled him to grip, hold and mimic some easy hand movements.

Developed over more than 30 years, and now in its fifth generation, Sun's steel prosthetic forearm weighs around 0.75 kilograms and costs 4,000 yuan to 6,000 yuan ($580-$870), around one-fourth of the average price in the market.

"He often stays in the workshop for a whole day, addicted to developing new functions for the arms. He is quite fussy," said Qi Yunfei, Sun's apprentice.

Sun's invention was awarded a Chinese patent last year. So far, up to 900 people in need of arms have come to him for help.

"My father always told us not to profit from people with disabilities. Most of them do manual labor jobs and don't have much money," Sun's daughter Xiaoxue said.

To help more people who have encountered similar tragedies, Sun built a two-story building, offering free accommodation for those who come to be fitted for prosthetic arms.

His story has made him a local celebrity. In 2016, the Disabled Persons' Federation in Jilin gave him around 30,000 yuan to purchase more manufacturing equipment for the workshop.

"He is the real 'Iron Man' in my heart," Sun's grandson said, while pointing to the prosthetic devices developed by his grandfather at the workshop.


(China Daily 12/06/2018 page17)

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