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Autoworkers combine skills to build fellow employee a new limb

Autoworkers build arm
Autoworkers join forces to build fellow employee a new limb 06:13

Our series A More Perfect Union shows what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. In this installment, we meet coworkers at an auto plant in Anna, Ohio, who combined their unique skills to literally give a team member a hand.

Using a combination of old-school handiwork, high-tech engineering and relationships around the world, a group of people who make cars – not mechanical body parts – built something life-changing, reports Scott Light of CBS affiliate WBNS in Columbus, Ohio.

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"Everyone's got a certain talent. And by theirselves, they could do pretty good. But when you bring a whole group of people with different talents together, that's when things start clicking," David Macke said.

Tony Leonard CBS News

"So you got tons of different backgrounds coming together to build something that nobody has ever – none of us has ever done before," said Corey Howard.

Something no one has done because these Honda colleagues came together to build an arm for fellow employee, Tony Leonard.

"I am an engineer for parts for cars. How am I going to build an arm? I'm not a doctor, you know. We done a lot of research on it and figured out that we can do this," said Les Bowers.  

Tony Leonard suffered from a childhood spinal condition that brought new problems in adulthood. A surgery helped strengthen his legs but a separate, rare disease ravaged his left elbow.

"I had gone through about five surgeries to try to stabilize it and none of it was working so the decision was to just go ahead and amputate it," Leonard said.

Without a prosthetic arm to offer balance, Leonard was wheelchair bound. So his colleagues stepped in. Manager Frank Kahle came up with the idea.

"Knowing the different technologies that we have the scanning and the 3D printing, it was pretty obvious to me that we were capable of doing it," Kahle said.

Kahle enlisted engineer Les Bowers, who assembled the right parts and the right people. Richard Crawson created a comfortable stand to ensure accurate scans of both of Leonard's arms. 


"We would repeat this multiple times until we finally got something that worked very well for Tony," said Scott Jones who created 3D models.

"Once you get to know him, you would do anything you could to help him," said Susie Bowles, who works in purchasing and used her connections to source supplies – some from as far as Japan.

Electrical design engineer Corey Howard brought the prosthetic's fingers to life. Macke, also known as "MacGyver," became the project's utility guy.

"There's some things that computers and machines can't figure out it just takes experience and I have the knack to visualize beforehand what's something's going to look like," Macke said.

After a couple of months, the team's work led to the day when Leonard walked for the first time in two years. 

Tony Leonard and the team of coworkers who worked together to make his prosthetics. 

"I was totally surprised how stable I was at first. I was excited. My adrenaline was pumping. And I was happy," Leonard said.

"I got to say, it was a pretty emotional day. It was great to see him walk again," Bowers said.

Eventually Leonard got a top-of-the-line prosthetic through his insurance, but that arm had limitations. The team rallied again, this time building a specialized hook so Leonard could hold onto his crutches and leave his wheelchair behind.

"They got me out of this chair. How do you thank the guys for doing that for you? Only thing I can think of is continue to get stronger and use the very product they provided for me," Leonard said.

"We're not a bunch of coworkers. We're kind of a family over here. And it's good to be part of that," Crawson said.

Leonard's team built six arms total, each one bettering the last. Honda has a conference every year that highlights problem solving at its factories worldwide. Typically that award goes to innovations designed for cars, but last year the top award went to the team from Ohio for building those very arms. 

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