Tuesday, July 10, 2007

New prosthetic device helps grant second chance at “normal life”

Dr. Rick Psonak, right, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and rehabilitation, adjusts Anthony McCool's high-speed myoelectric prosthesis called the "Dynamic Arm."

With the birth of his second son and the holidays around the corner, Anthony McCool was working all the overtime he could manage at a plant in Yazoo City.

At 10 p.m. on what would have been just a normal October night at work, the 25-year-old took a misstep that would forever change his life.

McCool fell off an observation platform. His arm got caught in a conveyer belt, and he was pulled approximately 300 feet before being hung in midair for an hour. While in the most excruciating pain of his life, he wondered if he would even survive to see his family again.

That night, McCool lost three quarts of blood. He eventually made it to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, but his arm could not be saved.

“They had to take my arm, my shoulder joint, everything,” he said. “I never dreamed anything like this would ever happen to me.”

McCool was given a second chance at having a normal life, thanks to Rick Psonak and Richard Boleware, certified prosthetists in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery’s Division of Orthotics and Prosthetics.

McCool became the third civilian ever to receive Otto Bock’s high-speed myoelectric prosthesis called the “Dynamic Arm.”

“Anthony has a very radical amputation,” said Psonak, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and rehabilitation. “He doesn’t have any of his arm or his shoulder.

“Most upper limb amputations involve the hand and wrist getting caught up in machinery. This type of amputation is extreme and is very difficult to fit with a prosthetic arm.”

Normally an electronically powered arm with batteries can be pretty heavy, so many amputees opt not to wear a prosthesis. However, new, lighter technology is now available, according to Psonak. “This technology has been made available for members of the military who have lost limbs,” he said. “There has been great success fitting microprocessor prostheses because they respond instantaneously.” Most computerized arms are much slower.

This new technology uses an amputee’s own nerves and muscles to activate the prosthetic hand and elbow. This allows McCool to move his prosthetic arm as if it were a real limb – by simply thinking about what he wants the arm to do.

The myoelectric arm is driven using electrical signals from the muscles of the chest, now activated by the user’s own thought-generated nerve impulses. These impulses are sensed, via surface electrodes, from the pectoral muscle and relayed through the microprocessor, causing the arm to function.

The arm, which costs roughly $120,000, is not for everybody. According to Psonak, amputees have to be psychologically and emotionally adjusted to be a candidate for the arm.

“Anthony is a brave guy,” he said. “He is a young, motivated, positive guy who seems to be well adapted to the challenges he has to face each day.”

Before receiving the arm, McCool had to wear a prototype prosthesis to see if he could tolerate the weight.

“We told him we would not fit him with the ‘Dynamic Arm’ unless he could wear the arm at least three hours a day,” Psonak said.

McCool passed several functional tests and was then fitted with the “Dynamic Arm.” They also made sure McCool could easily put the arm on and take the arm off.

The microprocessor technology is developed in Germany. Psonak and Boleware custom design each prosthesis to meet the needs of each individual.

“We want to make sure there is nothing available in the field of prosthetics that we are not familiar with,” Psonak said. “We are on the leading edge of everything we do. It hurts our feelings to think that someone else is getting better treatment than what we are able to provide.

“We make sure we hire the best people and have the best technology.”

Since joining the UMC staff in September 2003, they have had numerous opportunities to help patients suffering the loss of a limb feel “whole” again.

“When we first meet our patients, a lot of them are in the dark about their condition,” Psonak said. “We introduce them to others who have experienced the same things and show them videos of what others have been able to do.”

During this first phase of his prosthetic rehabilitation, Psonak sees McCool at least twice a month, with his visits averaging about three hours. Psonak says he really gets to know his patients because of the time he gets to spend with them.

“We spend a lot of time together and that is the cool thing about this profession,” he said. “I will see him for the rest of his life.”

And now McCool can do the things he has always loved to do, like fishing and hunting. “We went out and watched him cast with a rod and reel and then hook a fish,” Psonak said. “It’s very rewarding. He is an inspiration to us all.”

McCool never realized how difficult things were to do with just one arm. Tasks simple to an average person, like using measuring tape or hanging a picture, can be impossible to do with just one hand. “The arm really helps so much,” McCool said. “I never thought I would deal with things like that, but if it weren’t for this, I would be frustrated. But I know I have an alternative now. If I need it, I’ve got it.” What makes McCool so motivated?

“My family,” he said. “It is lucky I survived. I can see my kids grow up. Things like that flash through your mind when you don’t think you are going to make it.”

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