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