My name is Derek Bakelaar. I am a gold/silver-smith, and previously owned and operated a jewellery store. I have dedicated all my extra time and efforts into building finger splints. For 6 years I ran both businesses but have decided to follow my heart and dedicate myself to one. In July of 2003, I sold the jewellery store and put all my working time into DIGISPLINT.
My Dad put a torch in my hand when I was ten years old in a jewellery repair shop and said “give it a try”. Since then, I could repair jewellery as well as create what people want. My greatest joy since Digisplint started in 1996, is that now I can take the trade my father taught me, and create what people need. Time and time again, I have been asked how I got into finger splint therapy and when I am done my story, I am asked to repeat it again. For those of you interested…
It was the evening of October 30, 1995, and I was playing volleyball with our local recreation league in the small gym of our high school when the ball ended up in the bleachers again. The bleachers are on top of a ten-foot wall that has no access to the gym floor. When the ball goes up there, you either leave the gym, go down the hall, up the stairs and find the door to the bleacher area or you monkey up the wall, grab the ball and toss it down. In the middle of a game, the latter is quicker and not hard to do. So, for the third time that game I volunteered to go up the wall again to get the ball. I tossed it down, hung over the side to drop down myself when my wedding ring got snagged on a nail at the top or the wall. You hand therapists have probably seen the results of this before but for every one else…what was left of my finger is not for the weak stomach. My finger was partially de-gloved, the bone snapped between the DIP and the PIP and there was obvious tendon damage. A good friend of mine drove me to our emergency room and after the doctor looked at the x-rays, said that this break was beyond what could be repaired in our little hospital and to please go home and in the morning drive to the city emergency department for them to take care of it. They splinted it with an aluminum brace, gave me some Tylenol 3 and said “good luck”. I realize that this sounds silly, but in our part of the world, this is how things are done.
To back track a bit, I told you earlier that I have a jewellery store. I should explain that the Christmas season was set to start in a few days and in retail, this means that more than 60% of our annual business is done within the next two months. I am the only gold smith in the store and my workload is about to quadruple and now I have one silly finger broken and a whole sleepless night to think about my dilemma.
On the way to the city the next day, Sharon (one of God’s greatest gifts to me and my beautiful wife) drove and I told her flat out that I need this finger cut off because I have to get to work. If we don’t make it through the Christmas season, we may as well not be open for business in January. She didn’t say much because she new I was serious and was not about to change my mind. We arrived at the emergency department and immediately were seen by a doctor (they knew we were coming). I explained to him my dilemma as he studied my hand and when I told him to cut it off…I’m sure he thought I was nuts. His response was to first look at Sharon who shrugged and said, “He’s serious” and then look at me and say “that’s not an option”.
The surgery took an hour or so, I had a plastic arm and wrist splint up to my elbow with my wrist and all my fingers fixed in a position that made my whole hand immobile. I had to stay in the hospital for two days attached to an I.V. pole and I missed Halloween that night with my kids. I was not happy.
A week or so later, I was extremely frustrated with my splint because I could not even change a watch battery. Seeing the work pile up on the gold bench drove me to call the physiotherapy department in the city and ask for an appointment to have a thermal plastic splint made to free up my first three fingers of my left hand so I could get back to work. The therapists were very obliging and soon after, I was diving into the piles of repairs at work. I was slow, but at least I was doing something.
The surgeon that put my finger back together did an excellent job and the therapist that got it working again was gifted. On one of my many hand therapy sessions, I told him I was a gold smith. He looked up at me and asked if I could build him a special finger splint for a client. After describing what he was trying to accomplish with this splint, I said “sure”.
The rest, my friends, is history. I looked into building more of these splints, in different variations to accomplish different goals with different fingers and from that point on, one thing after another fell into place. From a broken finger that I thought should have been cut off, a whole new career started in which I will no longer make and repair things people want, but things people need…and I love it!
To the therapists in Canada and around the world, I will not try to impress you with my degrees, because I have none. I will not tell you that hand therapy, occupational therapy or rhuematology was my chosen career, because it was not. But, if you can tell me about your clients finger or fingers, what it is doing and what you want to accomplish with it, then I can promise you that I will do everything I can to help you accomplish that goal. I do not quit easily and my record proves it.
To the people effected by hand disease and deformities, I promise that I will work with your therapist to make your life easier in some way, as best I can. I will make and remake splints for you until I get it right. You will be proud to wear your silver or gold splints and no longer will you feel the need to hide your hands.
I carry with me a “will” passed on from my mom, that is, almost nothing is impossible and if it is not impossible, then it can be done. I carry with me a “desire” from my dad, that is, I want to help, and if I can, I will.