DECATUR, Ala. — Tim Hall always meets a stranger with a handshake.
Whatever reluctance his greeter might feel is quickly assuaged when the Meow Mix lab technician extends his prosthetic right hand and the mechanical fingers close into a firm but friendly grip.
Co-workers are amazed by the device that has allowed Hall to return to work one year after he lost his hand, just above the wrist, in an industrial accident Oct. 25, 2011, at the Decatur plant.
"I think it's cool. No one else at work has one," Hall said with a smile, clad in faded blue jeans and a black Aerosmith concert T-shirt. "I'm looking forward to getting some of the adapters, especially the one that will allow me to play the guitar again. I'll feel like Inspector Gadget then."
Hall, 48, is one of a few thousand amputees worldwide who has been fitted with a Touch Bionics i-Limb, one of the most technologically advanced powered prostheses available.
He received the 38th i-Limb Ultra before extensive therapy sessions caused it to short out when sweat got into the electrodes that control movement. His new bionic hand -- serial No. 3,259 and his fifth prosthesis -- has restored a sense of normalcy and independence since the accident.
"I grew up watching the Six-Million Dollar Man on television -- you know, the bionic man. 'Build him stronger, better, faster,' " Hall said, sitting in a room with his occupational therapist at Encore Rehabilitation in Decatur. "I still have issues with what happened -- nightmares sometimes at night. But with this, I know I'm going to be all right.
"I don't accept any limitations. I call them challenges because I know soon I'll be able to do nearly everything I did before."
Hall's bionic hand is controlled by his own muscles, the same ones that controlled the hand he lost. Each finger moves independently and bends at joints so that it grasps objects the same as a normal hand.
Inside the prosthesis, two electrodes pick up signals from muscles in his forearms to move. It took Hall months of careful training and practice with therapist Dolores Kisbey-Green to learn to isolate the two muscles and use them separately to create the motion he wanted.
"When I first came in, I was in so much pain because I had been gripping something very tightly when the accident happened," Hall explained. "It felt like I, my phantom hand, couldn't let go."
Kisbey-Green said muscle-mirror therapy -- watching the muscles in his left hand relax in a mirror -- tricked Hall into relaxing the muscles in his right arm.
"That was my big breakthrough," Hall said. "It gave me so much relief. That was around late November, early December of last year, so I actually could enjoy the holidays."
Early in his recovery, Hall, an Anaheim, Calif., native who has called Alabama home for 22 years, was offered a hook for a prosthesis, which he declined.
"When I think of hooks, I think of pirates, and that's not me," he said. "I wanted more than anything to go back to the job I had been doing. That's when I got the i-Limb."
Kisbey-Green remembers the day she helped Hall try on his new bionic prosthesis.
"He went running through here shaking everyone's hand," she said with a laugh.
With two functional hands, Hall plunged into therapy to relearn how to do his job as an extruder operator, running machinery that mixes powdered cat food ingredients with steam before punching out the shapes that go on to become dried cat food.
But he was told he wouldn't be able to return to the job and was offered a position as a lab technician, which required a different set of skills.
"I have to hold little glass slides, so I have to be able to grip them with my thumbs and index fingers, like this," Hall said, demonstrating with his real and bionic hand.
Kisbey-Green, who has been by Hall's side on his road to recovery, has helped as he achieves each goal he sets for himself.
"He really has come a long way," she said. "He makes it sound like it was easy and smooth, but it really wasn't. There were some really tough times, but he never gave up."
Hall credits Kisbey-Green, originally of South Africa and a physical therapist more than 30 years, with not only his physical but his emotional recovery.
"We've been working together from the beginning," he said. "She's really been more than my occupational therapist. She's been my psychologist at times, too."
She wasn't his first hero in this potentially tragic accident. He recalls the horror of an emergency helicopter ride to Huntsville Hospital, where surgeons amputated from midway up his forearm, and the week of recovery afterward. He attributes his survival to the actions of co-workers.
"I was two-and-half floors up in the plant, and I would have bled to death in three to four minutes," Hall said. "I had several trained first responders who worked with me who knew just what to do and took care of me. They saved my life."