Updated: Nov 8, 2021
Artist. Writer. Foodie.
When Hilary broke her back, leg and lost her right hand in a serious accident in 2016, she was lucky to survive her injuries. But with the help of specialists and the support of her family, she has since regained her health and begun adapting to life without her dominant right hand.
For Hilary, the realisation that her lifelong passion for painting may be at an end was a heart-breaking thought and she was left feeling ‘a bit useless.’ Having tried a robotic arm with little success, it wasn’t until Hilary came across Koalaa that she finally dared believe there may be hope for her art once again.
We spoke to Hilary, to find out more.
What prosthetics have you previously tried?
I was really excited when I got my robotic hand. It certainly looks the business and like something out of a Star Wars film, however, the reality quickly set in that it couldn’t do what I needed it to. Now don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful to have been given a chance to use it, it just doesn’t work for me. I find it is very awkward and can’t do anything that requires any level of precision, like picking up a wine glass or writing my name. Another major drawback is that it’s difficult to put on. It takes half an hour, which is a problem - especially as it won’t fit through coat sleeves, so I have to choose between having a coat or the hand. Being electronic, I also can’t get it wet, such as by doing the washing up or going out in the rain. While it looks great, I feel I have little control and as I broke my back, the 720g weight of the robotic arm is just too heavy for me.
How did you first come across Koalaa?
It was by pure chance. My brother is a successful entrepreneur and the founder of Koalaa approached him for some advice and mentoring for the growing business. When they found out that I had a below elbow limb loss and could benefit from the new type of prosthetic they were developing, they asked if I would like to try one out.
What were you expecting?
I knew the concept behind the prosthetic before I saw it – the idea being that different tool attachments slot in for all sorts of different uses.
I was looking forward to trying it out, but didn’t think too much about painting, as I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I was excited but had such a disappointing experience with my robotic arm, that I wouldn’t let myself get too carried away until I had properly tested it.
When my prosthetic arrived and I saw just how quick and easy it was to put on and to use, I could see its potential straightaway! It works just like a sleeve and is on in 30 seconds, as opposed to the 30 minutes needed for my robotic arm. It’s also super lightweight and comfortable to wear, again the complete opposite of my existing prosthetic.
Has it enabled you to do anything you couldn't before?
Being right-handed, I now rely on my left but it’s so awkward to write and to draw properly is impossible. Even signing my name is an issue. When I put my Koalaa prosthetic on and tried out the writing attachment for the first time, I could write legibly and even managed to write a little story! With practice, I think I’ll get even better.
I also love cooking and get so frustrated that I can’t chop things up. I haven’t been able to find any kitchen aids that genuinely help with tasks such as chopping a carrot or garlic. With my stump I just can’t do it. I have to hold the knife in my left hand and the food goes all over the place. Using the knife attachment, I was able to cut everything from bread to apples. It’s brilliant and has made it so easy. I even managed to make a ratatouille, which involves a huge amount of chopping - I had an absolute ball!
But the main benefit for me has been for my art. I love painting and with my Koalaa sleeve I can actually produce paintings again – something I didn’t think was possible! They’re not quite at the same level as before, but I’m hopeful I can get there again, which is just amazing. I was jumping round the house shouting to my sons when I realised there is a possibility I could get back into painting to the same degree as before. My family have been really impressed too. When they saw I could cut garlic again and the paintings I produced, they were dumb founded.
Best thing about your Koalaa prosthetic?
I think it's is an amazing invention. Being able to chop a carrot or hold a paint brush may sound like small things, but they have had such a big impact for me. It is these seemingly little things that can change your life completely and that mean so much.
The prosthetic is so light you don’t know you have it on and the concept, where you can get attachments for whatever task or hobby you can imagine, is just brilliant. They’re also way cheaper that other prosthetics.
What would you say to anyone interested in getting one?
Loads of superlatives! It’s fantastic, incredible, life changing - you won’t believe it! I don’t need something that looks like a hand, I need something that works – and I’ve finally found it!