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Leechburg chief tries out new arm, aims for return to work

Chuck Biedka
| Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, 6:18 p.m.
Leechburg police Chief Michael Diebold tries out his new prosthetic arm as Peter Leimkuehler, Certified Prosthetist Orthotist and Clinical Director of Union Orthotics & Prosthetics (middle) and Bob Dobson III, Certified Prosthetist look on at Union Orthotics & Prosthetics in the Strip District on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Leechburg police Chief Michael Diebold tries out his new prosthetic arm as Peter Leimkuehler, Certified Prosthetist Orthotist and Clinical Director of Union Orthotics & Prosthetics (middle) and Bob Dobson III, Certified Prosthetist look on at Union Orthotics & Prosthetics in the Strip District on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017.
Leechburg police Chief Michael Diebold gets fitted with his new prosthetic arm by Bob Dobson III of Union Orthotics & Prosthetics in the Strip District on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Leechburg police Chief Michael Diebold gets fitted with his new prosthetic arm by Bob Dobson III of Union Orthotics & Prosthetics in the Strip District on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017.
Leechburg police Chief Michael Diebold tries out his new prosthetic arm with the help of Peter Leimkuehler (right) and Bob Dobson III of Union Orthotics & Prosthetics in the Strip District on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Leechburg police Chief Michael Diebold tries out his new prosthetic arm with the help of Peter Leimkuehler (right) and Bob Dobson III of Union Orthotics & Prosthetics in the Strip District on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017.

It was a big first.

This week, Mike Diebold easily picked up a marker with the “hand” on his artificial arm.

It was done with ease, just like something he does every day.

The Leechburg police chief's left arm and hand were destroyed June 24 by the blast of a malfunctioning firework, but not his will to get back to work — sooner rather than later, he hopes.

On Monday, Diebold's UPMC Mercy surgeon released him from her care.

On Tuesday, Diebold, a 40-year-old Leechburg native and new father, tried on his new arm for a final fitting.

The fiberglass and carbon arm uses a cable and pulley system controlled by slight movement from Diebold's right shoulder muscles.

The mechanical arm appears at the same time to be simple yet refined.

Diebold, a police officer for 21 years, said Tuesday's fitting probably was the last one needed before he takes the arm home in a few weeks.

He seemed deep in thought when he slipped on the prosthesis the other day. Then, he answered questions from two Union Orthotics & Prosthetics Co. prosthetists about adjustments.

“I was very surprised at the weight of the prosthesis,” Diebold said, as he held the artificial arm out next to his undamaged right arm.

“The prosthesis seems to weigh just a bit more than my real arm,” he said.

Muscle control felt good, he said, and, when that marker fell to the floor, Diebold bent over and picked it up with the synthetic claw like it was the normal thing to do.

Final adjustments are being made to the prosthesis, crafted by Bob Dobson III at Union's offices and shop along Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh.

Back to work still the goal

Diebold still wants to return to police work.

“I can't wait to sit down and hold my empty pistol in the new hand. And, later, I will be able to practice,” he said Friday.

As an interim step, he is asking Leechburg officials to allow him to resume administrative duties at the police department.

But that may be problematic since Leechburg can afford only one officer on duty at a time. Two would have to be on duty if Diebold works because, currently, he could not respond to a call, meaning another officer also would have to be on duty.

Still, Diebold asked Mayor Wayne Dobos to talk with council about permitting him to work in an administrative role for the department until he can do all types of police work.

Dobos said council will next meet Sept. 19.

“As far as I am concerned, he is chief and will always be until he retires,” Dobos said. “I hope everything works out. We'll have to wait and see.”

“I can understand possible reasons against it, and I know reasons to allow it. I will respect whatever decision they reach,” Diebold said.

Diebold is on sick leave now and, in October, will begin 12 weeks of unpaid family leave.

“I have an internal calendar about what I think I can accomplish. I'd like to be back in October or November,” he said.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4711, cbiedka@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ChuckBiedka.

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