Austria's first 'bionic' man dies

2010-10-23 14:55
Vienna - An Austrian man who became the first person outside the US to wear thought-powered "bionic" arms has died from injuries sustained in a car crash, the hospital where he was treated said.

Doctors at the Medical University of Graz said they switched off the life support machines of Christian Kandlbauer in the night of Friday, October 22, after determining he was clinically brain dead.

Kandlbauer, who would have turned 23 next month, sustained severe head injuries when the specially modified car he was driving served off the road in the south east of Austria and crashed into a tree on October 19.

The cause of the accident is not yet known, particularly whether the neurally-controlled arm-prostheses he had been fitted with might have played a role.

Kandlbauer, a car mechanic from the south-eastern province of Styria, lost both his arms in September 2005 when he climbed a high-voltage electricity pylon as a dare.

Doctors fitted him with a prototype bionic arm for research purposes two years later and he became the first person outside the United States to wear such a high-tech prosthesis for everyday use in January 2009.

Just 10 months later, Kandlbauer passed his driving test and was given a specially-adapted Subaru. He returned to work as a warehouse clerk with his former employer.

"One of my first goals was a driving licence," he wrote on his homepage.

A trip to Australia and getting his own flat were among his other dreams.

"I love driving. My licence has given me back my independence," he wrote, saying his motto was: "Don't live for others, live for yourself!"

Otto Bock HealthCare GmbH, the German medical technology company which developed and built his bionic arms, paid tribute to Kandlbauer on its website.

The company said in a statement it was deeply shaken and in mourning for a man who had become their friend over the years of their partnership.

Kandlbauer "accepted his fate in a manner that commanded great respect from all of us. The courage to face life and the firm belief in living as part of society were his constant companions," the statement said.

Kandlbauer was a "pioneer of a technology that will permit many people to resume their everyday lives."

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