Bionic Woman- Part 2 (The Decision)

At last, after four weeks of wrestling with the options, I have made a decision. At 9 a.m. tomorrow morning I am calling BioTech to order my new arm!

I received such great input, information, and encouragement from so many people. I got emails, Facebook comments and messages, tweets, and even a few phone calls. Some friends batted the options back and forth with me in person, helping me think through everything thoroughly. I’m very grateful.

Hearing from two prosthetists (those who make prostheses) and several fellow prosthesis-wearers, I gathered these influential facts about the myoelectric arm:

  1. The cost is higher than I originally estimated—$33,000 instead of $25,000.
  2. It is heavy, possibly up to double the weight of my present body-powered (cable-operated) arm.
  3. It is likely to break down more often than my present arm-type. This is a huge consideration as I have to drive eighty miles one way and use a personal day from work for each repair.
  4. Parts and repairs are more expensive, too. My insurance only covers $2500 per year. On a $33,000 arm, that probably wouldn’t fix one finger.
  5. The suction socket, that would hold the arm on and allow me to get rid of the harness across my back, is tight…very tight. I don’t do tight. I can’t stand the feeling of tight clothes. Spandex suffocates me.
  6. Batteries have to be recharged often. One wearer commented, “When the battery dies, you basically have a door stop.”

Based on these facts, among others, I am going with a body-powered arm. I look forward to the cosmetic improvements now available, such as flesh-colored bolts and cables buried out of sight. I am also getting a new type of elbow—the Ergo Elbow. It has an internal balance system that will make lifting the forearm easier.

It is fun for me to share this adventure with you! I will keep you posted. And a special shout-out goes to the team at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Mrs. J.’s students in Indianapolis who are following the process.


Refuse good advice and watch your plans fail; take good counsel and watch them succeed. Proverbs 15:22 (MSG)

1962- Got my first prosthesis on my first birthday!

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

iPod Arm

The Utah Myoelectric Arm became available in 1981 and shortly thereafter, I got one. It cost $27,000! Thankfully, my insurance covered most of it. The arm had an electric elbow and an electric hand, both powered by rechargeable battery packs. It was like Back to the Future.

My existing upper arm slid into a socket that was held on by suction. Within the socket were electrodes, strategically placed to pick up signals from muscle contractions. When I flexed my front muscle, the elbow raised the forearm. When I flexed my back muscle, the elbow lowered the forearm. When I flexed the front and back muscles simultaneously, the elbow locked in its present position. (Confused yet? Hang on. There’s more.) Once the elbow locked, I flexed the front muscle to open the hand and the back muscle to close the hand. It took serious concentration and lots of practice. (I challenge you to try it. See if you can flex your front and back upper arm muscles separately.)

Because the arm was in the early stages of development, it had some issues. It was extremely heavy, the electric motors were loud, the battery packs ran down quickly, and the elbow and hand movements were slow. Also, I didn’t always have full control over the movements. Let me try to explain…When a person bends over to pick something up, she doesn’t let her arms fall freely forward; she holds them back using her upper arm muscles. Since my upper arm muscles were connected to electrodes, my hand would start opening and closing. On another occasion, my hand began operating when I walked under some power lines. That lack of control was the biggest issue for me. After many months of effort, I chose to go back to a cable-operated arm.

Huge advancements have been made in the 30 years following my myoelectric arm. There is now a Utah Arm 2 and a Utah Arm 3 (U2 and U3, for short). Elbows and hands operate via tiny microcomputers. Electric wrists rotate 360 degrees. You can even get an arm that has a built-in iPod Shuffle with stereo speakers! I really need one of those. I wonder if my insurance company would go for it.


With your well-muscled arm and your grip of steel—nobody trifles with you! Psalm 89:13 (MSG)

iPod Arm