Republish this article
27th May 2020

How I found my inner superhero

Michel Fornasier was born without his right hand. It may not be the most severe disability, but it is a highly visible one. The physical and emotional challenges this caused affected his confidence as a child. Now he has turned his biggest weakness into his greatest strength – dedicated to improve the lives of children everywhere.

“These days, I bound around dressed as my alter ego – Bionicman – and speak from the heart about disability and unlocking our inner superheroes, but it wasn’t always like that. I was ashamed to have no right hand. I used to hide my arm under my jacket to avoid attention. At seven years of age I got my first prosthetic arm. It was heavy for a little boy and had no functionality. I never accepted it. “, he explains.

His first visit to an orthopaedist specialist’s office to be fitted for an arm was terrifying. The room was full of artificial arms and legs – like a scene from a horror movie. Everything about it filled him with dread.

3D printed arms

Those difficult memories inspired Michel to rethink his entire life. He spent years working in banking before moving into the not-for-profit sector. From there, armed with a new mindset, he launched Give Children a Hand – an NGO dedicated to bringing prosthetics to kids.

“With doctors and designers, we use 3D printing to create unique – and very affordable – hand prostheses for children. They are light and made to fit the user perfectly. But above all, they are fun! “, he tells ThisIsMedTech. The prosthesis can be created in child’s favourite colour, with glitter or rainbows or cartoon characters. It can even glow-in-the-dark helping kids feel like their prosthesis really does give them a superpower.

“Building on this theme, I created Bionicman – a superhero with a bionic hand who visits schools to tell his story. Not only does this offer crucial emotional support to children with prosthetic limbs, it helps to educate other kids and build bridges between them. It’s a huge privilege for me. “, he says.

Two Bionicman comic books have been produced and he is working on a third. The comics may turn into videos in the future.

Adventures in bionics 

“My hand prosthesis is highly sophisticated. It has seven motors, Bluetooth connectivity, and a wide range of functions. However, even cutting-edge devices like mine can only do 15% of what a human hand can do. Yes, it’s amazing, but it makes me marvel at the wonders of the human body, and shows we have more progress ahead of us.”, Michel explains.

His message to medtech innovators is to embrace all the latest in artificial intelligence and digitalisation – but never forget the human being. “We are the real superheroes.”, he says.