Bionic Woman- Part 1 (The Options)

I am getting a new prosthetic arm! I thought some of you might find it interesting to follow the process with me…

My initial “casting” visit to BioTech in Birmingham, Alabama, was on Friday, April 20th. The prosthetist made a cast on my existing upper left arm, just like casts are made on broken bones. Next he slipped the cast off my arm to use as a mold to size my new prosthesis. He will create a socket (kind of like a removable cast) for my upper arm to slide down in. Then the elbow, forearm, and hand will be attached to that.

Much thought, prayer, and research had preceded that day. In fact, I’d been exploring prosthesis options for almost two years. I went to that appointment with my mind finally made up, but left with a head full of new options to consider. It’s just such a big decision! I will have to live with it for many years. (My present prosthesis is nine years old.) And it’s a huge financial investment.

Here are my options…

I can get an arm like I have now, which is called BODY-POWERED or cable-operated. The prosthesis is held on by a harness across my back with a loop under my “good” right arm. Cables run from the elbow and hand to the harness. When I move my shoulders and upper body certain ways, it pulls the cables to manually lock or unlock the elbow and open or close the hand. The movements are hardly noticeable because I am slick at it.

Or I can get a MYOELECTRIC arm. My upper arm would slide into a socket held on by suction, eliminating the need for a harness. Within the socket would be electrodes, strategically placed to pick up signals from muscle contractions. By flexing various muscles, I could control the actions of the electric elbow and hand.

Here is my dilemma…

I am used to the BODY-POWERED arm; it is second-nature to me as I’ve worn this type since I was one year old. It is less expensive—$10,000 as compared to $25,000. The mechanical parts tend to break down less than myoelectric parts and the parts cost less. Improvements have been implemented since my present arm was built. Now cables, housings, and bolts can be flesh-colored rather than silver; some can be buried out of sight, too.

But with the MYOELECTRIC arm, I could get rid of the harness across my back. That would be nothing short of life-changing. Obviously, it would feel amazing. Not so obviously, I could wear clothes that I’ve never been able to wear before. The myoelectric would also offer increased function, though the learning curve would be a killer. I’d have to relearn even the simplest tasks. And one final thought—what if I don’t like it? I’ll be stuck with my old arm for several more years.

So…I need to make a decision right away. Help! What should I do?


We humans keep brainstorming options and plans, but God’s purpose prevails. Proverbs 19:21 (MSG)

My present arm is on the left

8 thoughts on “Bionic Woman- Part 1 (The Options)

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this very personal part of your life with us, Becky. I don’t know which arm to choose, but I DO know that as you wait on God He’ll make it clear to you, and I’ll be praying for you through that journey. Thank you for educating me on something about which I would otherwise know nothing.


  2. Becky,

    You are the one that has to live with your pick. Would be nice if you could test drive one for a week or two, but as we both know it does not work that way. I guess the trade off is comfort and clothes you can wear vs being comfortable with making the prosthesis work.

    I used to date a gal who was a forequarter amputee. Right shoulder and arm removed due to a tumor. They later found out she did not have cancer and therefore did not need to have her arm removed. After many years she has now finally put the prosthesis in the closet.

    Her prosthesis was only for cosmetics. Large cap/shield that covered what remained of her right chest with many straps, but the arm just hung down.

    I would say the only concern would be if the motor would be as fast as you would like since you can now make your body powered unit work very fast.



  3. There is a fundamental difference in the weight of the 2 arms as well! You do not state if you are above or below elbow but I gather you are below elbow. The myo arm weighs nearly double the body powered one and if the length from the elbow is short, this is a major limitation as to what you can lift. There is also the issue of when the battery dies you basically have a door stop. 🙂
    From a functional viewpoint the myo arm is as useful as the conventional one and the noise of the motors is not intrusive – well, after a while you do not really notice it anymore. You are right regarding longer term costs. The myo arm will need regular looking after and will cost a lot more over the next few years. But it does allow you to look more natural. No straps are a big plus, but at the end of the day, you need to weigh the cost of cosmesis versus cost versus reliability. Not an easy one.


  4. Thanks for sharing your story. My students and I are learning about prosthetics and biomedical engineering. I found your post in the process of researching more about it. Very brave of you to share your private struggles, and we look forward to hearing what you decide and how it goes. My students are divided and have lots of questions, but most think you should try the myo arm if you have the means. Best wishes!


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