Derby woman gets unexpected Christmas gift: new electronic hands

Julie Dombo was nervous about lunch.

She had plans to meet with Mark Holden, the general counsel at Koch Industries, and Holden’s wife, Louise. They were coming to her house on Monday, and all she and her husband had prepared were chicken salad and chips.

Dombo, who lost both her hands and feet after being shot during a robbery last year, had met Mark Holden in October at an awards banquet for the Wichita Crime Commission.

Holden had to speak after Dombo spoke, “a tough act to follow,” he said. “She was inspiring, funny, lighthearted, no signs of resentment or bitterness.”

After that awards dinner, Dombo told Holden about how Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas would not pay for the electronic hands that she said would give her a chance at a relatively ordinary life. The hands allow her to grip objects, to work an iPhone and to put on her prosthetic legs.

With practice, she’d be able to go to the bathroom on her own, walk up a flight of stairs and, she hoped, drive a car.

“I just want to be able to be alone,” Dombo told The Eagle in May, when she still hoped the insurance money might come through.

“I’ll do what I can,” Holden told her that night at the banquet.

When Holden traveled back to Washington, D.C., afterward, he couldn’t get Dombo’s story out of his head. He told his wife and son.

He contacted someone who knew U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo of Wichita to see whether Pompeo could talk with the company. But a pair of the hands retail for about $260,000.

Without the hands, Dombo’s husband, John, has to be with Dombo nearly all the time, to change her prosthetic legs and to help her transition from one activity to the next.

Dombo has been working out with the hands once a week since May at Peeple’s Prosthetics so that if the money ever came through, she would know how to use them.

Holden attended the sentencing hearing for the man who shot Dombo and learned there that Blue Cross still hadn’t budged.

“I promise you I will get your sister the arms,” Holden told Dombo’s sister Linda, and gave her a hug. “We’re going to get them.”

But Dombo didn’t know what that meant.

Holden told Dombo that his wife wanted to meet her. So the Dombos invited the Holdens over for lunch.

When the Holdens arrived, Dombo saw that he was holding two big boxes with the label of the company that made the hands.

“Why do you have those Touch Bionics boxes?” she asked.

“They are your hands,” Holden said as Dombo started to cry.

Holden and his wife had written a personal check to purchase the hands.

“Merry Christmas,” he said.

Oliver Morrison: 316-268-6499, @ORMorrison