A former Paratrooper, who was paralysed in an accident, has told how he can feed himself for the first time in 17 years after being given a robotic arm.
Military veteran Jon Noble is only the second person in the UK to own a JACO assistive robotic arm, which is mounted on a motorised wheelchair, thanks to funding from military charities Support Our Paras, Blesma The Limbless Veterans, Help for Heroes, Royal British Legion and ABF The Soldiers Charity and case working and liaison support from SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity.
The 38-year-old, from Hampshire who was badly injured in a road traffic accident in 2003, which left him as a C4 tetraplegic, said:
“I cannot wait to hand my dad a pint for the first time and socialise with friends who I have shied away from since leaving service.”
With his sole but limited control of his daily life being through a chin-operated joystick on his electric wheelchair, Jon was left feeling like a “talking mouth with no purpose”, feeling so bad that he even avoided seeing friends. However, the JACO arm is already giving him a new independent lease of life.
Jon, who served for four years in the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, completing two tours of Northern Ireland and one in Iraq, said:
“When I was first injured all I would ask myself at night was ‘can I just have one arm? Just one arm back please,’ and 17 years later, this has answered my prayers. It’s amazing.”
“I gave up all control over my life 17 years ago. The JACO arm will mean I have more choice over my own life and going to help me reengage in life and interact. I can start to see things opening up again for me now.”
The JACO assistive robotic arm was supplied and installed on 17 June by Rahana Life, who are experts in technologies that enable people to have limited or no use of their arms to regain arm function. The robotic arm was developed by Kinova in Montreal, Canada and not available on the NHS.
The device features 6-axis movement corresponding to shoulder, elbow, and wrist, allowing 16 movements in all to mimic the smoothness and versatility of a fully functioning human arm.
It is mounted onto Jon’s electric wheelchair, and Jon is able to take full control through a chin-operated joystick. Though some users can take control using head control, sip-and-puff, head array system, or almost any other interface, in combination.
Jon’s wife and main carer, Glynnis, who he met in 2007 and married last year on Zoom, discovered the JACO arm on Christmas day through YouTube. She added:
“From the moment I saw the arm, I couldn’t believe it. This is life-changing. Often Jon just sits and stares at stuff hoping that telepathically it will just jump up. Nothing happens in his life without somebody else doing it. He has zero autonomy in his own life.
“There are a thousand things that this arm is going to allow him to do; simple things like scratch his own itch! Time spent just getting out of the house is going to be cut down by at least 50% in my world. It’s not just affecting him but me and the responsibility on my shoulders, which lightens my load.”
The JACO robotic arm was installed on 17 June and now Jon hopes to spread awareness in order to be the first of many to receive the arm.
“It fit onto my chair like it was supposed to be there all along. When I first got control of the arm for a trial, I didn’t want to give it back. For the first time, I was opening doors, which is huge for me due to safety, picking things up – and dropping them, but that comes with practice. I even took my first selfie. I don’t even know all the possible ways it is going to improve my life yet.
“I’m so happy and privileged to get this technology and for the military charities to help me out with funding.”