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Villager makes prosthetics accessible to all

Source: China Daily Updated: 2019-07-01

Sun Jifa draws an outline for a steel prosthetic arm at his workshop in Yongji county, Jilin province.Photos Provided To China Daily
 
When Sun Jifa realized he could not afford to buy artificial arms, he decided to make them himself.

Since Sun Jifa's online store opened on e-commerce platform Taobao in March, he has become much busier.

The 66-year-old farmer runs a workshop producing prosthetic arms in Guanma village of Yongji county, Northeast China's Jilin province.

Over the past decade, Sun has provided his handmade iron forearms to more than 1,000 people, helping them to use mobile phones, play chess, saw timber and even drive tractors with the prosthetic arms.

Sun lost his forearms in an explosion when he was developing a fishing device in 1980.

"I showed great interest in inventions when I was younger, but the accident almost shattered my entire world," he said. "My wife and mother had to help me put on my clothes, brush my teeth and even go to the bathroom with me after the accident. I even thought about suicide because I could do nothing without my hands."

However, encouragement from his family members and his child's impending birth gave him hope to live on.

Hence, he needed a pair of prosthetic arms to help him with his daily life, but he found that he could not afford to buy them.

Therefore, he decided to make them himself. It took him several months to design, produce and adjust them repeatedly.

Sun guided his brother to nail a spoon to a piece of rubber and wrap it around his right arm.

"In fact, it couldn't be called a prosthetic arm. It was only a simple device that enabled me to eat," Sun said.

"It looked really ugly. Also, as a farmer and the head of the family, I needed a more functional device that could help me do more complicated manual labor."

In the beginning of 1985, he started to develop better prosthetic arms using iron, plastic and rubber after researching and studying at several factories that produced prosthetics around the province. "It is thanks to my family members who gave me great support," he said. "Without their help, I wouldn't be able to finish this complicated work."

After developing it for more than 30 years, Sun's steel prosthetic arms are now in their fifth generation and are made to look as if he still had both his arms.

Controlled through movements of his shoulders and upper arms, the device enabled Sun to grip, hold and mimic some easy hand movements.

Sun poses with five generations of steel prosthetic arms he had made over the years at his home.Photos Provided To China Daily

 

The story of Sun's independence as a disabled man began to spread widely through different media outlets in 2005, and he was invited to be an instructor at a small factory in Changchun, capital of Jilin.

Meanwhile, a number of disabled people all around China contacted him through various ways, hoping to have the same "iron hand" as he had.

"Most of them didn't have high incomes, and had to face lots of difficulties in life," he said.

"The price of prosthetic arms sold in the market seemed to be a huge burden for them."

To help more people in need, Sun quit his job as an instructor and started a workshop in his village to manufacture prosthetic arms in 2007.

Sun's prosthetic arm weighs around 0.75 kilograms and costs 4,000 to 6,000 yuan ($580 to $870) - around one-fourth of the average price in the market.

Li Zhimin, a farmer from Henan province, lost his right forearm when he was operating a machine in 2013.

When he saw Sun's story on a television report in 2014, Li contacted him and finally got a suitable prosthetic arm with Sun's help.

"Sun is someone who can bring hope to those of us in similar conditions," he said. "After getting used to my new arm, I decided to learn the techniques of making prosthetic arms from him. Then, I can help more people."

Sun rides a bicycle with his prosthetic arms.Photos Provided To China Daily


Sun has several apprentices studying under him and one prosthetic arm can be usually completed within three days if a person masters skillful techniques.

With more disabled people around the country coming to his workshop to have prosthetic arms fitted on them, Sun built a two-story building to provide them free accommodation.

He also provides free maintenance service for his customers and they only need to pay for the cost of new prosthetic arms if they wanted an upgrade.

"I will never profit from people with disabilities," he said.

"I just hope to help them live and work independently like normal people.

"Even if we have suffered misfortunes, we shouldn't yield to fate," he added. "We can still create our happiness through wisdom and hard work."

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