Hancock woman receives bionic arm


HAGERSTOWN -- It was just a paper cup, but for bilateral amputee Dawn O'Leary, 49, of Hancock, holding it in her left hand meant her life was about to change.

"I was up at the crack of dawn thinking about this day," O'Leary said Friday as she practiced trying to hold the paper cup without crushing it.

O'Leary was fitted Friday afternoon with i-Limb, a bionic prosthesis, at Ability Prosthetics and Orthotics's Hagerstown office.

When O'Leary was 12 years old, she was involved in an electric shock accident that caused both of her hands to be amputated. She lost her right arm to the shoulder and her left arm to the wrist.

As soon as the i-Limb socket and hand were slipped onto her left arm, O'Leary said it brought back memories of having hands as a preteen.


"It feels just like the real thing," she said.

For more than 30 years, O'Leary has been outfitted with a prosthesis with a hook on her left hand. On her right arm, the prosthesis was more for aesthetics. But the harness that she wore to support the prosthesis had started to cause her physical problems.

O'Leary said she has arthritis in both of her shoulders. Wearing the harness put strain on her shoulders and caused painful problems with her rotator cuff in her left arm.

"I've had to deal with a lot of pain," she said.

The i-Limb hand weighs only 1.1 pounds. The socket, which is like a sleeve over the arm, adds just a little more weight. O'Leary is one of 450 people in the United States who has been outfitted with the i-Limb and the sixth person fitted by Ability, according to Clay Barrow, an owner of Ability.

After some adjustments, O'Leary will be able to take home the i-Limb in about two weeks. She'll have to undergo about three months of rehab to be able to retrain her arm to use the new prosthesis.

Electrical signals in the muscles of O'Leary's remaining arm control how the i-Limb moves, Barrow explained. Two small metal electrode plates sit against the user's skin on the forearm, one on top, one on the bottom. Electrodes detect the signals from the muscles, he said. The i-Limb is covered under insurance and the warranty allows upgrades over the next two years at no cost.

The socket slips over her arm and suctions to the remainder of her arm. Barrow said although she can't isolate each finger separately, such as raising her index finger, all five digits will be able to wrap around a single object. The wrist also rotates.

"It really mimics the human body," Barrow said.

Holding something is what O'Leary was excited to try. She said she was able to hold a mug and pick up a tissue. She said she wants to learn how to use the computer and holding a rod and reel.

One thing she really wants to do is hold a crayon.

"I want to be able to color with my grandkids," she said.

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