Prosthesis type: i-limb quantum
User since: January 2014 (i-limb revolution)
Background: congenital deficiency, born without his right hand
Lives in: Cincinnati, Ohio/USA
Occupation: Animation Illustrator
Date of Birth: 11/23/1989
It’s been a long road to regaining the use of two hands for Ryan who in 2014, at the age of 25, was fit with his first i-limb upper limb prosthetic device. The prosthesis became a game changer for Ryan who was born with just his radius, ulna, and a few carpals on his right side.
When Ryan was born, his parents immediately tried to find the best course of action as they were told that if they wanted to go a reconstructive route their window of time was very narrow and they had to get started immediately. With the added pressure, Ryan’s parents saw no other alternative and ultimately decided that it was best to try and reconstruct his hand, which they were told would leave Ryan with a highly functional helper hand.
The surgeries began and lasted his entire young life. They included grafting a few phalanges on his limb, building a couple of digits on the end of his arm, as well as transferring some tendons which left him with a pincher. He also had a couple of digits that were built out of toes so he could pinch between them and then at the age of 7 he had a whole toe transplant which created a kind of opposing stationary thumb that he could grip things against. By the end of it all, Ryan had undergone over 30 surgeries that began as early as when he was 6 months old and ended around the age of 15. This meant that on average, there was at least one surgery a year.
During one, what turned out to be final, appointment the surgeons unexpectedly and suddenly declared that they had done all that they could.
It was really bad. I don’t think any of us saw it coming and it was pretty depressing to be in high school and be like ‘ok, so on the one hand, surgeries are done, which is nice but on the other hand I went through all of that for something that’s just minimally functional.’ It had a pretty bad impact on my self-esteem too as there was no cosmetic value at all to that kind of work.
At the end of this long and arduous road, Ryan and his parents were left puzzled. They had just spent over a decade working on a solution but after a lot of time, emotion, and expense were left with something sub-par. Yet reflecting on his whole experience, another decade after everything came to a halt, Ryan tries to stay optimistic.
I guess I can’t be too bitter about it because it’s just one of those things that just has to happen. Any time a field is advancing there’s trial and error and some people are going to be in the error category. So I was not happy with what I was left with, but I didn’t feel like I had options to explore. It seemed like it was such a one way street, like I had gone through all the trouble, and the surgeries that took up most of my childhood were massively expensive and I felt like I couldn’t just undo that and try another option now.
After finishing out high school and going through life as it was handed to him, Ryan entered college and after a year into his studies decided it was time to pursue his dreams further and move out of his family home. He attempted to continue living with his reconstructed hand but after weighing the options decided that perhaps it was time to see what else might be out there in terms of options.
A couple years back, I actually revisited that idea [of other options] after living with the limb that they had built for me for long enough. I felt like I had to take some initiative for my own healthcare so I started exploring things and talking to a prosthetist that I knew.
Luckily for Ryan, he wasn’t alone in his journey. His brother, who had been adopted from Bolivia, had a similar congenital condition but on his lower limb which was easily correctable with a prosthetic device. In talking with his brother, Ryan was introduced to a prosthetist, Rob Pinkston, who at the time focused on lower limb prosthetics but was able to guide Ryan and refer him to a surgeon by the name of Jan Ertl. After much thought, Dr. Ertl suggested that they start from scratch.
He [Jan] seemed a little bit reluctant because it was obviously a product of a lot of work he was about to take off but he was really great about asking me what I wanted and whether I was comfortable with going this route and at the time I felt pretty sure that I was. So he went ahead and performed the amputation and did an amazing job. He completely disarticulated the additional digits that they had built on there and moved some of the soft tissue around to help pad the end of the limb. It was the fastest recovery I’ve ever had too; it was just a beautiful surgery.
From here, there was no looking back. Ryan began taking serious time exploring upper limb prosthetic devices, meeting with other upper limb amputees to understand what the benefits were of each device and ultimately decided on the i-limb™ as he had heard about the quick turnaround for any broken parts and the great customer support that Touch Bionics would be able to provide him if needed. He was then able to meet with a Touch Bionics rep, demo the i-limb™ revolution and begin the insurance process which took a few months’ time.
Ryan, as many in his situation, didn’t realize all the new things he’d be able to do differently now. Simple things like manipulating items away from his body and using his new hand at work as an illustrator helped tremendously.
I definitely have noticed it a lot at work because I do a lot of sketching so the ability to hold the sketch pad in one hand and draw on it instead of having to find a table or surface to put it down on is huge. But the thing that actually changed the most for me was how I approach house hold activities, like food preparation. Using a pepper mill was always something I was troubled by. Even the trick of pinning it against your torso doesn’t always work all that well so it was huge to finally be able to do that.
As a Touch Bionics ambassador Ryan has been able to interact with other amputees and limb different individuals and tell them things a new and different way, with the help of a prosthetic. Ryan’s journey may not be all that different to those of others who were born with a congenital limb difference. In Ryan’s case, he was repeatedly exposed to a line of thinking that revolved around treating a limb deficiency and the regard to any outcome which doesn’t make use of only the patient’s existing anatomy as a ‘medical failure’. If additional equipment or devices were required to have a normal lifestyle, it was seen as a worst-case scenario.
There was a time, when I was younger, when I bought into that thinking, and for a while it scared me away from looking too seriously at getting an adaptive device. But I feel more whole and able-bodied now that I’m using my i-limb™ in my daily life than I ever could have without it. Everyone needs to find the option that works best for them, and you can’t let people discourage you from exploring options just because they consider them inferior for whatever reason.