What’s Up In the Amputee World?

Because I’m involved with a lot of online amputee communities, I tend to see a lot of the most current news in the field before many of my friends. In the past few weeks several stories keep popping up in my news feeds and I thought it was maybe time to share them with our GeekMom readers. Here are a few of my favorites:

1) Although it’s not usually on my radar, New York Fashion Week is in full swing. It’s pretty much a given that the runway will be filled with attractive male models, but this year there will be a specific guy to watch out for as the show gets underway. He’s tall, ruggedly handsome, and he’s only “wearing” one leg. Jack Eyers had his leg amputated 16 years ago after a birth defect left his right leg deformed and painful. Losing his leg meant giving up his dream of becoming a fire fighter, so Eyers looked into modeling. This week he will be modeling for one of the major designers, Antonio Urzi. It’s the first time a male amputee has been hired to model at New York Fashion Week. That’s pretty exciting news in the amputee world.

Photo: Models of Diversity  Used with Permission
Photo: Models of Diversity. Used with Permission

The next two stories have been around for a year or longer, but every few months they begin to make their rounds on the internet again, and show up in my email box as links from thoughtful friends and family. Upper arm prosthetics in general receive significantly less research funding and development time. Because the greater majority of amputees have lost lower limbs, most of the funding goes to creating better legs and feet. It’s been exciting to see the new surge in progress when it comes to prosthetic arms.

2) Losing the ability to navigate the world is only one of the major losses arm amputees face. Those of us with both arms intact underestimate how important it is to be able to touch and feel the items in our environment. One of the most exciting developments in upper arm prosthetics has been the newest prosthetic arm that allows its wearer to actually feel sensation again. One of the test subjects reported that he could, for instance, sense the difference between hard and soft objects. It’s definitely an exciting advancement for upper limb amputees, although, like most prototypes, it will be years before it’s affordable to the general amputee population.

3)  Another advancement concerning upper arm amputees is the creation of the DEKA arm. Created by Dean Kamen, who also gave us the Segway, this is the first upper arm prosthetic that can accurately be controlled by the user’s thoughts and brain control. For decades, arm amputees have continued to rely on the old fashioned hook, because it could most accurately perform daily life functions. With a huge leap into brain control, the game changing arm will most likely prove to advance the basic arm prosthetic into the high tech age. Unfortunately, like the prosthetic hand that can “feel,” this prosthetic might not be available to the average amputee for a very long time, because of price restrictions.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images, http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/Creative/Frontdoor/embed

4) The most recent news for arm amputees hit the news circuits in December, as Les Baugh showed it was possible for a double arm amputee to wear a mind controlled arm on each side, and operate them simultaneously. It was not as easy as just strapping the arms to his shoulders. Baugh, who lost his arms over 40 years ago, had to first go through a surgery where neurosurgeons reassigned the nerves in his shoulders to new locations, which enabled Baugh to use the new prosthetics more accurately. Within ten days Baugh was able to navigate his home life efficiently, using both of his thought controlled hands. You can see the incredible video here.

Photo: Johns Hopkins University Hospital
Photo: Johns Hopkins University Hospital. Used with Permission

5) Now let’s get to the most recent story in my news feed. This week, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the annual NBA All-Star Celebrity Game was played. One of the celebrities arrived on two prosthetic legs. Blake Leeper is one of the top amputee athletes for Team USA and the Paralympics. He has graced many podiums in the track and field events and is considered “America’s Blade Runner.” Leeper played alongside movie stars and television personalities, and held his own quite well. You can read the highlights here. His main goal was to represent the Paralympic athletes, and amputees around the world. Mission accomplished.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images, http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/Creative/Frontdoor/embed

6)  This last one fascinates me. Much like at trade shows for cars, it’s common for exhibitors at camera trade shows to invite attractive models to their booths, to draw attention. This week in Japan, one of the booths at a camera trade show featured female amputees with interesting prosthetic limbs. It’s the first time that female amputees have modeled in this venue in Japan, and possibly even the world. The story (click on link to see the picture) has been circling the news stories around the world. I am pleased with the positive exposure amputees receive in the United States and sincerely hope that this development will bring about the same kind of atmosphere in cultures around the world.

All of these stories are fascinating. Having been an amputee for over 10 years now, I’ve seen a huge change in how amputees see themselves, and how society sees us when we cross paths in public. I love sharing new stories about what’s going on in this world I’m proud to be a part of. But I share with you not just to entertain you, or give you a new topic to bring to the water cooler (do those even exist anymore?). I bring them to you to remind you that we all have our challenges in life. Some are easier to live with than others. But when it comes down to daily life, navigating the details of our world, new developments are not just great news story links to share on social media. They are changing people’s lives.

One of the comments Les Baugh made after he successfully tried out his new double arms was this: “Maybe for once I’ll be able to put change in a pop machine and get pop out. Simple things like that, that most people never think of.”

Today when you put that change in the vending machine, and easily navigate your product from the bottom tray, think of Les. And take a second to be thankful for your two working hands.

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