Jonathan Kuniholm magazine spread

Jonathan Kuniholm — A New World of Prosthetics

Jonathan Kuniholm may never be able to pick the guitar again with his fingers. He’s accepted that. But it doesn’t mean he is not going to try.

He’s never been afraid to try things.

In 1997, at age 24, Kuniholm joined the Marines because he wanted a challenge in his life. “I certainly found that,” he says. But after three-and-a-half years of active duty, he was out and the challenge was gone.

He then went to grad school at North Carolina State University to get a degree in industrial design, working with the university’s heralded Center for Universal Design. In his spare time, he studied ways to improve airship exploration to Mars.

But that wasn’t enough. He wanted more. He wanted what he’d had just a few years prior—he wanted to go back into the Marines. So he re-enlisted, and in the summer of 2004 Kuniholm’s 4th Combat Engineer Battalion was activated and sent to Iraq.

On New Year’s Day in 2005, while his wife Michele and son Sam were back home ringing in the new year, Kuniholm was on foot patrol with another unit just a few miles from the Euphrates River. They were ambushed by Iraqi insurgents, who initiated the attack by setting off an IED (improvised explosive device), followed by weapon fire. The explosion knocked Kuniholm back, and he suffered major injuries to his right arm. One of his platoon-mates was killed that day, and four more would die before the end of the month.

Once evacuated, Kuniholm was treated by the medical staff from the Marines and the Navy, and he is grateful for the advances that have been made in battlefield medicine. “One of the medical officers told me that if it had been Vietnam, I would have died from the loss of blood,” he recalls. Eventually he was transported back to the United States.

Surgery for a muscle transplant was followed by amputation of his right arm below the elbow. Five months of rehabilitation later, Kuniholm was fitted with a prosthetic arm and began his re-entry into civilian life.

Before Kuniholm’s injury, he was pursuing a PhD in biomedical engineering at Duke University and was a partner with a product design firm. After rehabilitation, he wasn’t about to change plans. But working as a designer was difficult with a prosthetic arm when it came to drawing with computer-based software.

That’s when customized prosthetics and accessible technology became part of his life.

Kuniholm now has three interchangeable prosthetic arms. The first is a myoelectric prosthesis, which converts the movements of the muscles remaining in his arm into motorized hand and wrist movements. The second is a body-powered prosthesis with cables and bands that allow him to shrug his shoulder and extend his arm. The third is a shorter arm useful for work and fun, allowing him to hold a drawing pen or even his guitar pick.

Kuniholm’s injury not only changed how he picks the guitar, but also engaged his enthusiasm for others to do the same, or to do anything else they want. As a result, he switched his focus in his industrial design career from studying nano-instrumentation to finding ways to improve prosthetic technology, a field he says hasn’t seen significant advances for the past two decades because of its small consumer market. .…Continued in ABILITY Magazine

By Josh Pate

Open Prosthetics Project

Tackle Design Inc.

ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Sally Field issue include Letter from the Editor — Uncovering Addiction; Senator Harkin — Mental Health Parity; Headlines — IBM, Marriott, AssistiveWare, Turboset; Humor Therapy— A Volunteer’s Lament; George Covington — High-Desert Hijinks; Book Excerpt — Leave No Nurse Behind; Casting Your Ballot — Making Voting Accessible; Community Studio — Verizon’s Video-on-Demand; A Lesson from Mackenzie— I Love My Little Self; Universal Design — NC State Leads the Way; Recipes — No-Sin Appetizers; ;Events and Conferences...subscribe

More excerpts from the Sally Field issue:

Sally Field — Promoting Healthy Habits

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Jonathan Kuniholm -- A New World of Prosthetics

Diane Schuur -- The Hot Lady of Cool Jazz

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome -- Learning to Cope

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