From the start, growing up as a “righty”, and with no physical impediments, I was always led to have a confident view on life. As a child I got into whatever my hands would allow me to. From opening my first bag of candy, to the fine precision of placing my little GI Joe action figurines set to combat. Luckily, according to me, I had a great childhood, constantly energetic and involved in aggressive sports and stimulating activities.
Rather than going to see a movie, my father used to take my brothers and me to ride dirt bikes and go-carts on Saturday afternoon. I can remember holding onto that steering wheel with all my might while racing around the track, always using both hands, which enabled me to participate in these types of activities. We used to live across from woods, and were lucky enough to play with bow and arrows, climb trees, go fishing and, most importantly, ride our dirt bikes and quads. In school, I would participate in the “pull-up, push-up” contests and other extracurricular activities, such as wrestling and archery. I would never pay much attention to those who were hindered from participating in these events; people in wheelchairs and or those who were restricted from participating. I would just go to school and come home to my dirt bike, never noticing the limitations that were beside me.
After I learned how, I never had to worry about being physically able to tie my own shoes or ride a motorcycle. Growing up, I was never faced with a family or immediate member of mine who was physically or mentally handicapped. I guess that’s why it never occurred to me to try to relate and look at differences around me. I was never the type to express my compassionate side or reach out to those in need. At the end of the day I would pay no mind to an individual with differences and I wasn’t quick to assist in these areas.
Sunday May 18, 2003, at twenty years of age, I was involved in a near death motorcycle accident. After being airlifted to Westchester Medical Center, I lay in a coma for 2 ½ weeks and suffered other complications confining me to the hospital bed for over a month. After the third day that I was awake from the coma, I noticed I was missing my right arm/forearm. The doctors were afraid of shocking my body back into a coma so they instructed my family and loved ones not to tell me that I was missing my arm, but rather me find out on my own. “Phantom Sensation”, was something I never heard of. How was I supposed to know such connection existed? All my life I was unaware and unmotivated to learn about a “Phantom Sensation”. The reason I am bringing this up is because when you lose a limb you are often left with the feeling of a limb still there; Phantom Sensation. So it wasn’t until the third day out of my coma that I noticed my hand was missing and not just bruised under the gauze pads and medical dressing that surrounded it.
Now, where to go and what to do? I was shocked and surprised that I was living, because after I found out I was missing my forearm/hand I was also brought up to date about how I managed to cause such harm. I used to ride motorcycles aggressively for years, constantly achieving stunts such as “wheelies and stoppies”. For those that don’t know, a “stoppie” is a term used for elevating the back motorcycle tire while assertively coming to a stop on the front tire of the motorcycle. So, May 18th I was performing my 1000th “wheelie” at over 100mph and lost control. Along with the amputation, I had undergone a left thigh skin graft, a slight fracture to C4 and a herniated S1, L5. Overall, I was a happy individual that I was only suffering these problems after having been pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
While I was in a coma, I graduated May 19th 2003 with an associate’s degree in Marketing. Prior to my accident I was mainly focused on obtaining my Bachelors degree, so I knew I wanted to finish college. By January 27, 2004 I was enrolled into Baruch College, NY and set off to obtain my Bachelors in Corporate Communications. I was very concerned with my physical appearance, and now troubled by my new physical challenges. My major concern with my re-entry into college was that I wasn’t going to be able to take a test and write term papers since I was right handed. I was immediately welcomed by Baruch College’s Disability Office and the assistance they provided me. With my persistence and the help of Dragon Naturally Speaking, as well as other accommodations, I graduated in May 2006.
During my educational involvements, I was working, running a Non-Profit student Organization, called The Difference Makers, and going to rehab with the hope of receiving a prosthetic hand. After attending a seminar on myoelectric prosthetic hands I met an individual who led me to Eric Schwelke, CPO and President of Ultrapedics in Brooklyn, NY. I began working with Eric, looking to receive an Otto Bock Sensor Hand Speed, and was very excited to obtain such a device. After seeing the myoelectric hand for the first time, I pictured myself using one and thought that if I had one, all my physical and psychological problems would go away. I was always concerned about people looking at my residual limb and constantly refrained from using my right arm. I used to hide my limb under a long sleeve shirt hoping that no one would notice it was missing. So I thought that this new prosthetic hand was going to answer all my needs physically as well as mentally.
Following my insurance approval for such a device I received my prosthetic hand one year after my accident. Upon the final socket fitting I left Ultrapedics office and told Eric that I was going to use this device for all my daily needs. The fact is later that day when I came home with this device and I noticed everyone’s reactions I felt that they were looking at me even more then when I went around with no device. Because of the hand’s irregular shape and size, coupled with my understanding that this device was going to solve all my problems, I put the hand in my closet and would only use it when I wanted to work out with it doing pushups and bench press exercises. About a year later, I was called upon by Eric, who thought I had been wearing this device, to work an event for him and act as a patient model. Eric is a great guy so I was more than happy to assist. After cleaning up my prosthetic device I headed out to act as a patient model and showed interested occupational therapists and patients how well I was able to use this prosthetic device. For some reason, at that moment I grew to like to the device and started wearing it during my daily tasks. I mainly utilized the device’s cosmetic look and rarely charged the battery unless advocating for Eric, who still had no idea that the hand never opened and closed on my personal time.
With my determination and the help of friends that I picked up along the way, like Eric Schwelke, John Howard and Bambi Lombardi, I became a Prosthetic Sales Representative for Touch Bionics, a Company that has since changed my life and understanding of prosthetic hand devices. Thanks to Stuart Mead, CEO, and his team at Touch Bionics, I have had the opportunity to use the hand during my sales representation and in my daily tasks. I have experienced muscle fatigue in my residual limb, because of how much I have been using the i-LIMB Hand! This device has allowed me to overcome many, psychological barriers, and a handful of physical barriers that my old prosthetic device was never able to achieve.
I would advise any patients that may have or are presently experiencing any of the challenges I have undergone as an amputee, to please be honest with your prosthetist. If had told Eric the truth, he would have worked with me and helped me to get the tools I needed. Looking back, I notice that this problem occurs time and time again. Often times I see amputees caring on in their daily lives with no help using a prosthetic device. Is it because they are unaware of the new technology, or just rejecting the thought of utilizing an external device? I’m not one to figure out what is going on in another individual’s life. I do hope, though, that we can create awareness and show the importance of looking at all the options out there.