Yes, I’m actually wearing a white shirt. Really.
This was quite the weekend. I’m now back home from home from the Amputee Coalition’s annual national conference, which took place in Orlando this year. In their own words, the AC’s mission is “to reach out and to empower people affected by limb loss to achieve their full potential through education, support and advocacy, and to promote limb loss prevention.” Well…that definitely works. The get-together consists of meet-ups, seminars and social events, and lots of prosthetics industry manufacturers and providers set up booths in a big convention hall alongside a wide variety of disabled athletic, activity and support organizations. It’s a lot of information and product and access to folks in similar situations, and rather smoothly, it’s also geared toward family members of amputees as well.
Ironically enough, even if this sort of event had existed in the mid 1980s right after I became an amputee I probably would have done everything possible to get out of attending, let alone come to it with family members. Chalk it up to the usual suspects of denial and teenage aversion to 99% of everything, but honestly, the Amputee Coalition would have have needed to book Metallica to play their “Master Of Puppets” album release show at the 1986 convention to have gotten me to turn up. But in 2013 I’m now here (and happy to be here) as a model for Ottobock, who are the developers and manufacturers of the prosthetic hand that I wear on a day-to-day basis. It’s the ne plus ultra in myoelectric hands, and I was one of the first people to get one when it launched last year after a 7-year development process. It was a real game changer for me from day one, and I was able to get very proficient with it reasonably quickly because I practiced using it obsessively. Over time word about that made its way to Ottobock, who decided that it might be a good idea to bring me to the Amputee Coalition National Conference to demonstrate its use and talk about its benefits to potential users.
Rather than wait until the end of the post, I’m giving my shout out to the Ottobock people now since you won’t skip over it here. Take a bow Byron Backus, Sharon Baldauf, Eric Fregger, Gary Hooks, Karen Peters, fellow model Kate Ross, Leslie Pitt, Linda Williams, and (pictured) the absolutely amazing Bambi Lombardi, who made this possible. Thank you. You guys are most excellent.
So here I am, hanging out at the Ottobock booth, stylin’ and profilin’. Woo. It didn’t take too long before I had a relatively quick rap down about the Michelangelo’s speed, its multiple thumb settings, its floating wrist and how unbelievably lifelike it looks – numerous people mistook me for a prosthetist and didn’t realize I was actually wearing a a prosthetic hand until I pointed it out. And when I started asking people about their back stories and fielding their questions, it didn’t take too long before I started to be the person who was really benefiting from the conversations. They brought back a lot of memories of those first few years after my accident (i.e. the high school years) and how difficult the adjustment was. All of that happened so long ago that sometimes I forget how much was involved, and how much my family went through as well. After I got out of the hospital there was rehabilitation, scarring, revision surgery, phantom pains, anger, frustration, denial, confusion, body image issues, self-esteem issues, self-confidence issues and the problems that came from having my two favorite activities (playing guitar and ice hockey) taken away from me overnight. It made me feel fortunate that I happen to be living in this era where prosthetics are advancing at such a rapid rate (the last 10 years have been huge) and it made me grateful that I’m now at the point where I’m actually able to provide a little bit of hope and encouragement to those in the early stages of recovery from an amputation. I could go on for hours about who I met, what I heard and what we talked about, but instead I’ll say that being able to send a few folks on their way with some much-needed good vibes made the entire trip worth it. For real. But in the interest of fairness, the aforementioned inner teenager gets the last word: it still would have been cool if they had, like, gotten Metallica to play the closing party on Saturday night. Maybe next year?
Thank you to Andrew for allowing us to repost this article from his great blog Hockey & Heavy Metal.