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Oak Bay and Saanich mayors give helping hand to project fitting prosthetics to Ukrainians

The Victoria Hand Project provides 3-D printed prosthetic hands and services to amputees facing poverty and other barriers to receiving care around the world — including Ukraine.
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Michael Peirone, CEO of Victoria Hand Project, left, Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch and Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock pose with sample prosthetic arms manufactured on a 3-D printer by the Victoria Hand Project. The mayors are taking part in a challenge to raise money for the organization. SUPPLIED BY KEVIN MURDOCH

The mayor of Oak Bay has thrown down the gauntlet to his Saanich counterpart in a competition that will see the loser taking part in the Floating Tea Cup Challenge at the upcoming Oak Bay Tea Party while wearing a prosthetic arm.

Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch and Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock are usually brothers in arms, having met each other while serving on the library board together seven years ago.

So when they discovered that the Victoria Hand Project, a non-profit organization that sits on the border of their two municipalities, had launched a campaign to help the people of the Ukraine, they wanted to lend a helping hand (or two).

“We figured that the challenge would be a fun way to raise funds and awareness of the unique way the local charity were helping Ukrainians,” Murdoch said.

The Victoria Hand Project is a charity and non-profit organization spun out of a University of Victoria engineering program. The project provides 3-D printed prosthetic hands and services to amputees facing poverty and other barriers to receiving care around the world.

Using state-of-the-art 3-D printing technology, local partners can produce affordable prosthetic limbs to amputees.

In January, members of the initiative travelled to Ukraine on a pilot project to fit five prosthetic arms to victims of the war. Upon returning, they decided to initiate an ongoing partnership with health care providers in clinics set up in two cities in the war-torn country — Lviv and Vinnytsia.

“While we had our initial reservations about working in a conflict zone, we ultimately decided that as we had a solution to help, it would be foolish for us to not help them,” said Michael Peirone, CEO of the Victoria Hand Project.

The Hands for Ukraine fundraiser has a $200,000 goal. The funds will fully equip the two clinics with 3-D printing and scanning tools, supplies for prosthetic fittings and the training of local staff to print, assemble and provide prosthetic hands to those in need.

“The goal is to provide high-quality prosthetic care for 100 amputees initially,” Peirone said. But that’s just the start. Once the equipment is in place, he said, clinicians will be able to support those injured in the war as well as the country’s 400,000 existing amputees.

The project has gotten the cost of producing a prosthetic arm down to $360, making it remarkably inexpensive, he said. (A conventional prosthesis can cost between $2,000 and $3,000.) The lower cost ultimately means more people can be helped.

People wishing to take sides in the Murdoch vs. Murdock challenge can select either Oak Bay or Saanich as their community of choice when donating to the campaign at victoriahandproject.com/ukraine.

The winning mayor gets bragging rights. The loser gets to strap on a demonstrator prosthetic arm that can be worn by people who still have all their limbs and attempt to paddle a floating tea cup on June 4 at Willows Beach.

“I assume it will take a bit of practice just to not tip the tea cup over,” Murdock said. “It will be interesting to find out how the prosthetic arm works. It is a contraption that you wear like a backpack. You operate the hand by squeezing your shoulder blades together. I hear it is comfortable and light.”

Using it to row a tea cup certainly wasn’t a skill the engineers at the Victoria Hand Project had envisioned for the arm.

“We have no idea how this will go,” Peirone said. “It just boggles our engineering minds. But we are appreciative of the mayors for their support and coming up with this fun way to engage their communities for such a worthy cause.”

parrais@timescolonist.com