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Rochester company patents ‘digit’ design to help people who have lost fingers



Man in olive green suit jacket and jeans sits in a chair.

In the summer of 2018, five clients from the region arrived at Rochester’s Limb Lab prosthetic clinic after accidentally cutting off their thumbs. The accidents all happened within a two-month period.

Limb Lab’s team is known for starting all conversations with the trademark question, “What do you want to do?” The answers from these clients spotlighted a need in the industry.

These clients all wanted to be able to continue to work as they had before losing their thumbs. One is a rancher and another one delivers mail for the Post Office. Another client missing a thumb works on an assembly line for a manufacturer.

That meant Limb Lamb’s prosthetists needed to find adjustable “thumbs” for the clients to wear to allow them to pick up things as well as other actions.

“I started looking at existing products for these guys and there aren’t many. There was actually only one feasible solution,” said Limb Lab Founder and Prosthetist Brandon Sampson.

That solution was a friction-based prosthetic with screws to tighten it into place.

Limb Lab co-founder Brandon Sampson sits by the patent that he and co-founder Marty Frana recently were issued for their innovative design of a “universal digit” for clients who have lost a finger. (Jeff Kiger / Post Bulletin)

“As soon as these big guys started grabbing something, it would move and let loose. So they would tighten the friction to hold it, but then you couldn’t reposition it,” he said. “So it was useless and frustrating for these guys.”

Sampson talked through the problem with Limb Lab’s co-founder Marty Frana, who is the company’s CEO. Frana works on the business side of the operation.
“I love bouncing ideas off of him (Frana), because he sees it from such a different perspective than I do. He’s a farm boy from Iowa. I’m a farm boy from Minnesota. On a farm, you figure out how to solve problems with baling wire and duct tape,” said Sampson.

They determined a successful prosthetic would need a mechanism that locks into multiple different places easily and also rotates into different places. After discussing the plan with an engineer, some simple, 3D-printed prototypes were created.

Sampson has a case full of parts from the experiment. Eventually, they settled on a design that actually can be used as a replacement for any finger.

A client can use another hand or their teeth to lock it in place. In addition to having a full range of normal motion for a finger, their creation can also lock backwards in a position no natural finger or thumb should go. That can provide a hook for another way to carry something.

The next step was to submit an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to patent the design of their “Universal Digit.” Sampson and Frana filed that permit on Aug. 6, 2018.

The pair received approval for their patent – their first – on April 26 this year. They join a large crowd of Rochester area inventors with patents.

Sampson and his team weren’t idle while waiting for the patent approval. They had 100 of the digits machined using aluminum. He said 48 clients, some who worked with prosthetic clinics, are now using those early versions of the locking digit. The aluminum version of the digits cost about $750 each.

Limb Lab also started embedding the digit in silicone and painting them to make them less noticeable. The silicone “skins” are also customizable. A client who picks up small pieces on an assembly line has a skin with an additional ridge to provide a sort of a “shovel” to make the process easier.

Now Sampson is talking to large prosthetic makers about incorporating the universal digit into their product lines.

“There’s definitely a lot of interest, and that’s the cool thing. It has worked 48 times,” he said.

The Limb Lab has many ideas for variations or related products. Other applications are in the pipeline at the patent office.



Fundraising for North Dakota abortion clinic move tops $500K



Fundraising for North Dakota abortion clinic move tops $500K

FARGO, N.D. — A fundraising campaign to help North Dakota’s sole abortion clinic move a few miles away to Minnesota has raised more than half a million dollars in two days.

The Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo will have to shut down in 30 days as part of the state’s trigger law that went into effect Friday, when the U.S. Supreme Court removed the constitutional right to abortion.

Tammi Kromenaker, owner and operator of the independent clinic, said Saturday she has secured a location across the river in neighboring Moorhead but stated earlier that she didn’t know how she would fund the move.

A GoFundMe page set up Friday to benefit the transition had raised over $515,000 from more than 6,000 donors as of late Saturday afternoon. The original goal was $20,000.

Abortion is legal in Minnesota and the state’s governor signed an order to help protect people seeking or providing abortions from facing legal action from other states.

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Wisconsin’s Tony Evers looks for boost from anger over abortion



Wisconsin’s Tony Evers looks for boost from anger over abortion

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s Democratic Gov. Tony Evers hopes to translate anger over the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade into votes this fall as he vows to fight a 173-year-old state abortion ban, including offering clemency to any doctor convicted and not appointing prosecutors who would enforce the prohibition.

Evers, who won election in the battleground state four years ago by just over 1 percentage point, told The Associated Press ahead of his appearance Saturday at the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention that abortion will energize key independent voters to support him and other Democrats.

“Any time you take half the people in Wisconsin and make them second class citizens, I have to believe there’s going to be a reaction to that,” Evers said.

At a rally Saturday before the convention, Evers said: “I have seven granddaughters who are girls or young women. Yesterday they were made second-class citizens, and that’s (expletive).”

Wisconsin’s governor’s race is expected to be one of the hardest fought in the country this year. It’s a priority for Democrats given the importance of swing state Wisconsin in the 2024 presidential election. Evers is also the only thing standing in the way of the Republican-controlled Legislature. In his first term, he issued more vetoes than any other governor in modern history.

Democrats running to take on Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson will also speak Sunday at the convention in La Crosse. Five Republicans are running for a chance to take on Evers. Wisconsin’s primary is Aug. 9.

About 1,000 people attended the convention that kicked off Saturday night.

Evers told the AP that he feels confident abortion will be a winning issue for his party because polls have consistently shown about 60% of Wisconsin residents support it being legal in most or all cases.

“You can’t ignore the fact that we now have politicians making decisions for women and their health care,” Evers said. “So we’ll be talking about that a lot.”

Evers vowed to do whatever he can to evade the state’s abortion ban that was passed in 1849 but hasn’t been in effect since the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. That includes supporting lawsuits to overturn it, not appointing district attorneys who would enforce it and offering clemency for doctors convicted under it.

“We’re looking at everything,” he said.

Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Paul Farrow said Evers’ position on abortion was appealing only to “his activist base and going against the will of the people.” He downplayed the significance of the court’s ruling on the election.

“All they really did yesterday was, 50 years ago an activist bench made a decision that wasn’t constitutional and put that into play, so they’re correcting that,” Farrow said. “Is it causing any change to the political landscape? There is a standard that people have. Republicans know that we’re pro-life.”

In addition to abortion, Evers said his reelection campaign and message to Democrats will focus on successes from his first term, including using federal money to fix roads and support small businesses. Evers said he will also emphasize what’s at stake if Republicans win, “including voter suppression and voting rights.”

Evers is a supporter of Wisconsin’s bipartisan commission that oversees elections, but all of his Republican opponents want to do away with it. Evers also vetoed a series of bills that would make it more difficult to vote absentee in the state.

President Joe Biden carried Wisconsin by about 21,000 votes, an outcome that some Republicans have refused to accept even though it has withstood two recounts, multiple lawsuits, an independent audit and even a review by a conservative group.

Republicans hope to harness unhappiness about gas prices, inflation and crime to knock off Evers.

No governor who was the same party as the sitting president has won election in Wisconsin since 1990. A Marquette University Law School poll this week showed Evers slightly ahead of his Republican challengers, while Johnson was about even with each Democrat running against him.

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Saints’ seven runs enough to put away Buffalo



Saints’ seven runs enough to put away Buffalo

Eliot Soto went 4 for 5 with three RBIs, and Aaron Sanchez worked in and out of trouble for five innings as the Saints beat the Buffalo Blue Jays, 7-4, on Saturday at Sahlen Field.

Soto’s two-run single in the fourth inning gave St. Paul a 2-0 lead. He scored on Spencer Steer’s one-out single for a 5-3 lead, and his two-out single gave the Saints a 7-3 lead in the ninth.

The Saints have led every game in this six-game series in the eighth inning or later yet take a 2-3 record into Sunday’s series finale, a 12:05 p.m. first pitch.

Michael Helman went 3 for 5 with a pair of solo home runs, and John Andreoli added a solo homer as the Saints beat the first-place team in the International League East Division.

Sanchez (2-0) allowed five hits and five walks in five innings but limited the Blue Jays to three runs. He struck out three. JC Ramirez pitched a scoreless inning, walking two, for his second hold.

Juan Minaya pitched the ninth, giving up a leadoff homer to Samad Taylor, and putting two more on base before retiring Chavez Young on a liner to center to close out the Saints’ second win of the series.

Thomas Hatch (4-4) took the loss, charged with four earned runs on eight hits and a pair of walks. He struck out five.

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