November 6, 2015

Skills for Life 4: People, Purpose, Passion

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Zach said he learned to hold a coffee cup from the bottom so he could drink from it more easily. Marie showed attendees the dressing stick she uses that affixes to the wall with a heavy-duty suction cup. Mike suggested wearing pants that are a size larger for ease of dressing. Anna said she isn’t ready to exchange her tight jeans for loose ones and shared a drawing of the device her occupational therapist designed so she could button her pants on her own.

Anna shows the sketch she made of a dressing aid her occupational therapist devised. Photographs courtesy of Laura Fonda Hochnadel.

These were among the many tips and tricks exchanged during the Skills for Life 4 conference for individuals with bilateral upper-limb loss, which was hosted by the U.S. Member Society of the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics and held October 22-25 in Houston. With 200 attendees, 54 of whom had bilateral upper-limb loss, it attracted almost twice as many people as the prior conference in 2011. People traveled from Australia, Austria, Sweden, Norway, and Canada to participate. Additionally, there were 25 abstract submissions, up from three in 2011, providing an even greater educational opportunity for the O&P professionals, physicians and surgeons, occupational and physical therapists, and other healthcare team members who attended.

A group photo of the attendees.

The conference offered workshops, breakout sessions, and presentations focused on issues faced by those living with bilateral upper-limb loss, prosthetic and rehabilitation solutions and advice were shared by healthcare professionals, and attendees could participate in activities such as swimming, yoga, Pilates, and Xbox games. More importantly, the cornerstone of the weekend was the opportunity this unique group of individuals had to meet and socialize with others experiencing the same challenges. It was inspirational, emotional, practical, and even fun, as evidenced by the laughter that came from the group playing the Left Center Right dice game during the Friday night cocktail reception.

Eric Nelson was on the conference planning committee and co-moderated a session on Friday morning, October 23, about success stories. “If you don’t ask the questions, you’ll never learn,” he said. “I hope that’s what you’re here for this weekend.” Nelson lost his arms due to burns he sustained in an electrical accident 31 years ago. He spoke briefly about his time in rehabilitation at TIRR Memoriam Hermann Rehabilitation & Research hospital, Houston—the event’s platinum sponsor—and the years of anger he went through after his accident and his subsequent divorce. The majority of his speech, however, focused on the years it took for him to accept his limb loss, meeting and marrying Deb, his wife of 25 years, finding a job, and learning to perform activities (ADLs) of daily living in new ways. He presented a slide show of the many grooming and self-care gadgets and home modifications he has made over the course of years of living with limb loss. “As you know, as an amputee there are no manuals for [ADLs] because it just depends on who you are,” he said.

Aimee Copeland led a meditation workshop as a way to deal with phantom limb pain.

During the weekend, the tips and discussions spanned from practical—dressing, washing, driving, working, and kitchen aids—to recreational. For example, Hector Torres, during his presentation on becoming a smart consumer, shared a trick he learned from necessity when fishing with live crickets as bait: “Dump them out on a terry cloth towel and their legs get stuck, so you can hook them without crushing them.” He challenged attendees to be creative and think outside the box. “Can something be homemade to make things easier? Can you use a regular tool in a new way?” he asked.

While achieving independence is important, the Saturday keynote speaker, Cynthia Dusel-Bacon, reminded everyone that “having learned independence, don’t feel like you need to exhaust yourself every minute and never get any help….”

Dates for ISPO’s Skills for Life 5 conference have not been determined.

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