Burglar swipes device that controls prosthetic hand of triple-amputee veteran

A Texas veteran who lost both legs and much of his right arm to an IED in Afghanistan was left to relive his experience when a heartless thief stole the device he uses to control his prosthetic right hand last week.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ben Eberle, 27, told the San Antonio Express-News he left the device in the center console of his pickup truck overnight and awoke Friday to find the driver's side door window smashed and the critical device gone. The iPod Touch has an application called i-limb, which Eberle uses to achieve hand movements he otherwise could not due to extensive nerve damage. Because Eberle's prosthetic hand is programmed to only work with the stolen iPod, and vice versa, he will have to replace both, he told the newspaper.

“That takes a long time,” Eberle said. “It's tedious and it's a lot of work with the hand itself.”

Eberle was badly injured in November 2011 in the Tangi Valley of Afghanistan when an IED exploded. He shielded his face with his right hand, and lost it and both legs, he told the newspaper.

A new iPod Touch costs around $240, but the hand is worth $75,000, authorities said. The iPod has a logo on the back reading “Touch Bionics,” the name of the company that produces the i-limb application.

Sgt. Javier Salazar, a spokesman for the San Antonio Police Department, urged the thief to come forward.

“I believe that we owe guys like this a lot more than this sort of treatment, as a society,” Salazar said. “We would ask that whoever did this recognize the gravity of their crime and do the right thing.”

Eberle's wife, Ashley, was seven months pregnant when he was injured. He was initially treated at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, then flown to Germany and eventually to San Antonio, where he spent a month in intensive care, then six months recovering at the San Antonio Military Medical Center.

“They didn't know if I was going to make it,” Eberle told the newspaper.

He did make it, and when his daughter, Halle, was born at the very hospital where Eberle was recuperating, he cut the umbilical cord with his left hand.