At 20 years old, Shay Powers was ready to take his passion for welding and turn it into a career. He was working toward his Associate in Welding Science degree and had three different certifications to back his skills.
After being introduced to the trade in junior high, Shay discovered he loved working with his hands—the more he perfected welding, the more he was inspired to follow his dreams to become a journeyman.
Eager, he jumped on his first opportunity for employment at a metal fabrication shop. His newly earned certifications were still in transit, so until they arrived, Shay’s employer asked that he stay on painting and grinding duties.
“I was 10 days on the job,” Shay begins. “I was OK with doing the painting, I was just listening to orders and wanted to make a good impression.”
So, when he was told to get on the side of a large set of stairs that was being moved by a forklift, he didn’t question. His task was to stand next to a 5-foot tall, 3,000-pound set of stairs and paint the side.
“So, I got on the other side,” he explains, exhaling deeply as he regains control of the emotion in his voice, “and the operator lowered the forks too much.”
Regrettably, the stairs were not strapped to the forks, and the unit began to shift. Shay quickly backed away, but his hands, which he had instinctively put in front of his body to stable the stairs, were pulled down underneath, crushing and ripping the fingers of his right hand.
Shay recalls the despair he felt when he returned home from the hospital. “I saw my games and guitar and my hope was just gone,” he says. “I didn’t know if I could do anything. Amputation really gives you a sense of your own mortality and affects every aspect of your life.”
On top of the emotional rollercoaster, Shay was in pain. His remaining nubs were extremely sensitive. Even hitting them against his other fingers could cause enough anguish to elicit a few choice words.
Finding A Way, Physically and Mentally
It was at Shay’s last appointment with his surgeon when it suddenly struck him—he remembered a Naked Prosthetics (NP) video he’d seen on his Facebook feed the year before. The video showed NP Ambassador Matt Finney riding a motorcycle. Shay had stopped to watch because he knew the amount of grip required to control a bike and was impressed it could be done with finger prostheses.
“I showed my surgeon the video. He hadn’t heard of NP and didn’t think I’d have much chance of insurance approval because it’s a such a new device,” Shay shares. “But I knew I needed to push for it, I needed to do this for me.”
A month later, Shay was overjoyed to report back that he had gained approval, and that his NP custom PIPDriver was in production. Shay’s surgeon was impressed, happy to have a solution to recommend to future patients.
Working with his care team at Hanger Clinic, Shay was measured, fit, and assessed to make sure he had the best outcomes possible. As for Shay’s color choice, it was instant.
“I’ve always been a big fan of the black carbon fiber. You can wear it with sweats or a tuxedo and it will look good,” he laughs.
At the same time Shay was healing physically and getting ready to receive his prosthetic finger, he was working toward internal healing as well. Shay experienced depression, panic attacks, and nightmares in the months following his amputation.
“At that point, not having a finger was the easiest part,” says Shay. “So, I found a therapist, and it really helped. I discovered I had PTSD and was finally able to get a grasp on all of my emotions.”
Luckily, Shay also has a wonderful support group of family members and his girlfriend, Mel.
As he progressed mentally, Shay also began regaining near-full function of his right hand, thanks to his device. He re-enrolled in school, practicing using trade tools while wearing his PIPDriver. At home, he was thrilled to be able to tackle everyday tasks such as using zippers and buttons and opening and closing containers and doors.
One of his favorite triumphs? “Opening that one drawer under the oven!” he laughs.
More seriously, Shay does daily heavy commuting, and being able to grasp the steering wheel, handle his water bottle, and adjust the radio are big benefits of wearing his device. For leisure time, it’s a relief to be able to game again, and pick up his guitar. The cage-like structure of the PIPDriver also protects his ultra-sensitive nub.
“I have so much more confidence messing with my tools, even playing catch with my dad. It feels really good,” says Shay.
Getting back to welding is of paramount importance to Shay. In addition to more college, he continues to put theory to practice and recently completed a BBQ grill as a gift to his father.
“I love my PIPDriver,” says Shay. “My family loves it; they love how it makes me feel. My friends think it is so cool. When I talk about it and tell my story, I realize what I love the most is that this prosthetic has given me a happy ending to this awful chapter.”
Shay wants to tell other finger and partial hand amputees, “Don’t go through it alone. Don’t even for a minute think you can face this by yourself. And don’t be afraid to share your tale, it can help you get through. You can even find me on the Facebook support group page and message me. Just please don’t do it alone.”
Special thanks to Shay’s sister, Haley Powers, for the photography.