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How to Embrace Your Limb Difference

There are over 2 million people in the United States living with a limb difference, and according to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that 30 million people are in need of prosthetics and orthotics worldwide. Limb loss can be acquired (through cancer, meningitis, trauma, diabetes, ex-veterans) or congenital, and can present physical and social challenges that make it more difficult for those individuals to feel accepted by everyone around them. This is especially true for congenital limb differences, as resources such as prosthetics are often impractical for children as they grow so quickly. 


Image: Learning About The Types of Limb Difference in Children

There is no one stop shop for recovery and acceptance after someone experiences limb loss, as each and every case is unique, and each and every person with a limb difference has different experiences and is at a different place in their life. The picture below is of Jeff Soelberg, a brand ambassador for Point Designs. Although he acquired his limb difference later in life, Jeff loves sharing his confidence and excitement for what lies ahead with others. 

Point Designs Brand Ambassador Jeff Soelberg showing off his partial hand amputation                                   Image: Point Designs Brand Ambassador Jeff Soelberg showing off his partial hand amputation

For some, limb loss can feel like an insurmountable barrier to future success and happiness, and for others, like Jeff, it can be an opportunity to learn and do more than ever before. He’s adapted his workouts to overcome his pain, has met and inspired others who have also lost limbs, and has preached the importance of a positive mindset during recovery through his Jeff Giving a Hand Foundation

Three young people wearing their Disney themed Open Bionics Hero arms prostheses                                   Image: Three young people wearing their Disney themed Open Bionics Hero arms prostheses

Part of the recovery process after limb loss involves regaining as much functionality and independence as possible. Small differences, even the loss of only a middle and index finger, can result in a 40 percent disability of the hand and a 22 percent overall whole body impairment. While strength training and adapting the environment to a particular limb difference can help a lot, our world is inherently built for those with 10 fingers and 10 toes, which is why exploring prosthetic options can help with recovery tremendously. Not only does it allow the user to accomplish tasks they wouldn’t have been able to do before, but it allows them the opportunity to embrace their limb difference, instead of feeling as if they have to hide it. With the advent of new technologies like 3D printing, and the increase in prosthesis availability for those with limb loss, customization options are more accessible than ever before. 

Customized skins for prosthetic legs by Alleles                                   Image: Customized skins for prosthetic legs by Alleles

Prosthetics can look like almost anything now, including your own skin. For some, embracing their limb difference means having a prosthesis that matches the rest of their body. This is where traditional prosthetic fabrication methods such as casting, molding, and anaplastology are most useful.  

Point Designs Point Digit user next to Silicone prosthesis                                                                                                                                                     Image: Point Designs Point Digit user next to Silicone prosthesis

Regardless of what allows someone with limb loss to feel beautiful, powerful, and comfortable in their own skin, prosthetists, orthotists, and artists will always be available to help those with limb loss feel special, comfortable, and excited to embrace their differences. 

Tilly Lockey (left) wearing her Open Bionics prosthetic arms, Angel Giuffria (right) wearing her Arm Dynamics socket with a lightsaber attachment.                                   Image: Tilly Lockey (left) wearing her Open Bionics prosthetic arms, Angel Giuffria (right) wearing her Arm Dynamics socket with a lightsaber attachment.

When asked what embracing her limb difference means to her, Tilly Lockey said "i’ve been brought up my whole life around doctors and prosthetic companies who were constantly trying to hide my difference under ‘aesthetically pleasing’ gloves. I like to use my bionic arms now made by open bionics to highlight and accentuate my difference in order to express my individuality! There’s no need to hide away our differences let’s decorate and enhance the beauty in uniqueness!"

Those with limb loss have also formed supportive communities around one another, showing off how they’ve managed to interact with their world without the help of their prostheses. This image below is from this video by Alexis Hillyard, who started the YouTube channel “Stump Kitchen,” where she shows off her cooking skills using her stump. 

Alexis Hillyard and her friends describe limb loss in their own words                                   Image: Alexis Hillyard and her friends describe limb loss in their own words

There is no one way for someone with limb loss to embrace their differences, and each and every person has a path that will work for them. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone, and that there are others out there that will support you.

Jeff Soelberg posing with his arms above his head, highlighting his partial hand amputation                                   Image: Jeff Soelberg posing with his arms above his head, highlighting his partial hand amputation

To put it in the words of Jeff Soelberg, everyone should “live life with passion and life will give back to you immeasurably. Life doesn’t end because of an accident or disability!”

Resources

Please check out the resources that we’ve arranged for you below. We’ve included linked to helpful websites, as well as links to children's books that help kids understand limb differences. 

 Finger and Partial Hand Amputee Peer + Support Group 

Facebook forum to share questions, concerns, challenges, and triumphs related to your amputation. In addition to amputees, we welcome family members, caregivers, hand therapists, hand surgeons, nurses, prosthetists, billing specialists, and those pursuing a career in O&P.

Amputee Coalition 

The Amputee Coalition serves as a strong resource for all amputees. The Amputee Coalition also operates a network of certified peer counselors to provide support to amputees.

Limbs for Life Foundation 

The Limbs for Life Foundation is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to providing fully-functional prosthetic care for individuals who cannot otherwise afford it and raising awareness of the challenges facing those with amputations.

Challenged Athletes Foundation 

Challenged Athletes provides individuals with physical challenges opportunities to find success through sports, community, and mentorship.

Orthotics and Prosthetic Activities Foundation 

OPAF provides adaptive sport/activity workshops for anyone with a physical or mobility challenge.

National Amputee Golf Association 

NAGA began as a small group of amputee golfers playing friendly games that quickly developed into regional tournament play in various cities across the United States. Today, NAGA has over 2,500 members worldwide.

Disabled Sports USA 

Disabled Sports USA helps 60,000 youth and adults with disabilities each year develop independence, confidence and fitness.

5 Fingers and 10 Toes

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (December 14, 2016)

By Dawn Civitello (author), Francisco Villa (illustrator)

In hopes of spreading awareness to young children and families about limb deficiencies that exist among peers. This book is a great way to explain to children that differences exist and it’s OK to be different; everyone should be accepted for who they are!!

Different is Awesome

Mascot Books (July 7, 2015)

ISBN-10: 1631772155 ISBN-13: 978-1631772153

By Ryan Haack(author), Wes Molebash (illustrator)

A little boy brings his older brother, born with one hand, for show-and-tell. The students ask him all sorts of questions about how he does things with one hand and realize that he can do anything they can do — he just does it differently. Along the way, they notice that we’re all different in one way or another, leading to the realization that not only are differences a similarity we all share, they are what make us unique — and awesome!

I Have A Doll Just Like You

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (February 14, 2017)

ISBN-10: 153520611X ISBN-13: 978-1535206112

By Julie Ann Zitterkopf Larson, MD (author), Jacqueline Kerr (illustrator)

I Have A Doll Just Like You! is a children’s story about amputation and limb deficiency. It was written with the goal of teaching children that people come in all shapes, sizes, colors and abilities. This book is a fictional, illustrated story for children about a little boy with a congenital limb absence of his left arm. It also includes a glossary of amputee terminology, a letter to parents and teachers, and a series of discussion starters for families and classrooms. All of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to send children with limb difference to amputee camp.

Griffin Drye
Griffin Drye