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Stories That Move You.

by Kate Snider, www.KateSnider.com, Mary Free Bed writer

Dave Duperron builds planes with one hand.

Learning to fly: Dave doesn't let having one hand get in the way of building and flying planes.

In 1977, Dave Duperron was a 37-year-old firefighter in Taylor, Michigan. He was married with three children and was a fire inspector at the time of his amputation.

As a fire inspector, Dave would go help the firefighters when they needed an extra pair of hands. Dave went to help at a particularly dangerous scene – a full propane tanker had overturned. After Dave arrived at the scene, he was helping with the process of righting the tanker with the other firefighters when it fell and crushed his hand.

Doctors had to remove Dave’s right hand two inches above the wrist. (Amputating above the wrist bone helps an amputee wear a prosthesis.)

Before his amputation, Dave had intended to go from working in fire prevention to firefighting. After his amputation, Dave was able to continue working in fire prevention.

Dave proudly said, “At the end of my career I went back into firefighting as a battalion chief.”

As a battalion chief, he was a shift commander, trained firefighters, prepared the schedules, and ran the fire scene. He was the one in command, with only one real hand.

About five months later, Dave, a Mary Free Bed Prosthetics patient, was putting on his prosthesis for the first time and thinking, “Oh, man! I have to do this for the rest of my life?”

The prosthesis was a steel hook with a harness that crossed his body, resting on the left shoulder. Dave said the harness drove him away from wearing the prosthesis.

Dave Duperron's airplane

Dave's Supercub.

Since then, Dave has gotten a myoelectric prosthesis and it works much better. (A myoelectric prosthesis is controlled by electrical impulses from flexing muscles.)

Primarily, Dave uses his myoelectric prosthetic hand to hold things while he’s working on them. He can even exercise with it: He lifts barbells and does push-ups.

Dave uses his prosthesis for more than just exercise. He builds airplanes.

“I’ve been an aviation buff all my life,” Dave said. “I’ve always wanted to fly and I started taking lessons when I was 21. Then I got married and started having kids and that just put the kabash on things.”

Despite his amputation, Dave got his license and started flying airplanes in 1989. Since then he has owned a couple airplanes and he joined an aviation group called, The Quiet Birdmen. He met a pilot in the group who built his own airplanes. Dave got interested, and the rest is history.

It took Dave about three and a half years to build his first plane. After he sold it, he started working on his current project, another airplane. Dave plans to travel around the country with his wife when he finishes it.

“I can do just about anything,” Dave explains, “But, a lot of things are quicker with two hands. Some of the things I do, I have to really preplan it so that I can incorporate the prosthesis, some things come automatically. It will add time to the build process, but I can do it.”

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