A Multi-Media Approach

Cynthia Dusel-Bacon

A bilateral upper limb amputee shows impressive prosthesisand foot skills, not to mention an unbelievably up-beat attitude.

Cynthia Dusel-Bacon is a geologist, a wife, a mother, anda bilateral above-elbow amputee. As a geologist, her work took her to Alaskawhere she was mauled by a bear when she was 31. As a consequence, she losther right arm at the shoulder and her left six inches from the shoulder.As horrible as that is, Cynthia landed on her feet (and that isn'ta pun!). She is still working for the U. S. Geological Services, still doesfield geology, and still does it in Alaska!

This is one plucky woman! She says, "I'm lucky tobe alive. That's the perspective from which I've viewed my life since myamputations. It could have been a lot worse." Wow!

What Cynthia has found works best for her is what she calls"a multi-media approach." That means she does things with herprostheses when that works best, and she does things with her feet, knees,hips, teeth, chin, shoulders, and a lot of "body english," inher words, when that works best. She also uses a variety of assistive devices,such as mouth sticks, straws to drink with, light switches she can operateby stepping on them, a hair brush and dryer mounted on the wall, and doorhandles instead of knobs. In short, as she says, "I use everythingI have. That's the multi-media approach. That works for me." All thesethings are shown on this "amateur" video (shot by her husband),which has been edited into a very professional product by Simcoe Communications.

In this video, Cynthia makes the point that it's importantto her to do as many things as she can to be independent and to live a lifeas close to normal as possible. At the same time, she admits, "I don'thave to prove I can do everything all the time. Sometimes it's more practicalto let someone else do the more difficult things. Fortunately, I have myhusband, son, and neighbors to help from time to time."

Cynthia's prostheses are body-powered with the exceptionof a battery-powered hook on her right (shoulder disarticulation) side."I wouldn't dream of using anything but hooks," she says.. "Ithink hooks are essential for people with bilateral amputations. Artificialhands might make me look more normal, but they wouldn't enable me to dothe things I need to do to be independent."

Since she uses her feet a lot, she wears sandals in thesummer and loafers, with modified socks that are sewn between her big toeand "index" toe, in the winter. She also wears skirts and slacksthat have velcro at the waist and a zipper pull in a nine-inch zipper. Herblouses have snaps behind fake buttons so, even though she has to have helpto fasten them, she can un-do the snaps and "disarm" when shewants to, which, she says, is "every day when I come home from work."

Cynthia wears her arms at work and for driving. But shedoesn't feel she needs to have them on to feel like her former self. "IfI need them for eating, writing, washing my face, or doing other bathroomoperations, I put them back on. But I shower, cook, and do dishes with myfeet. I also use my feet to help out when I'm wearing my arms."

In Cynthia's words, "I've found that who I am isn'ttied up in my arms. I'm still the same person I was before my amputations.Because I feel normal, I act normal. Because I act normal, people treatme as a 100% normal human being.

"The main thing that's motivated me to lead a regularlife is the fact that we only go around once, and this is my big chanceto have a full life. I'm ornery and determined enough to want my full share.I just don't want to sit in the closet and let life pass me by!"

Why would I review this ninety minute video hereand recommend it to those with new arm amputations?

There are several reasons, really. One is that Cynthiais without a doubt the best bilateral prosthesis user I've ever seen consideringthe level of her amputations. And she has the best foot skills I've everseen, considering that her amputations were acquired when she was an on-the-way-to-being-inflexibleage 31. What she can do is simply a wonder to watch.

Another is that her attitude is unbelievably positive.Here is a woman whose arms were literally chewed off by an Alaskan BrownBear, and she says, "It could have been a lot worse!" On one level,those with lesser disabilities may think, 'Gee, I guess I'm not so bad offafter all. It could always be worse." That can be therapeutic. On anotherlevel they can't help but be inspired by Cynthia's attitude and be inspiredto lead the full life that she lives. That's therapeutic, too.

I realize that only about two percent of arm amputationsare bilateral (arm amputees being only about ten percent of all amputees)so if this were a video only for bilateral above-elbow amputees, the audiencefor this would be a very small one, indeed! Consequently, I probably wouldn'tbe reviewing it here.

The practical value of this video, however, is that thereare a lot of single above-elbow amputees out there, and there are a lot- although many fewer - who have shoulder disarticulations. I think it'simportant for these people to have a way to see what they might be ableto do with a prosthesis - and without a prosthesis. These folks will probablyfocus on her right prosthesis or her left prosthesis - whichever one relatesto them - and ignore the other one. That's fine.

The important point is that having realistic expectationsseems to be a key factor in adapting to upper limb prostheses. Certainly,having a chance to watch Cynthia as she goes about her daily life can behighly instructional at the very least!


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P.O. Box 819
Roseville, CA 90678-0819



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