In just her fourth practice session to learn the use of her prosthetic arms, the determined teenager laboured for ten minutes, but managed to successfully scribble her name on paper
After four anxiety-ridden months fraught with pain and uncertainty, train accident survivor Monika More (16) is finally regaining a semblance of normalcy in her life, again.
Monika donned her myoelectrically controlled arm prostheses on May 13, after they arrived from Germany. The breakthrough, however, came on Tuesday, in the form of her own name on a sheet of paper, scribbled by Monika with painstaking effort — and matched only by the exhilaration of completing the task.
Life came to a screeching halt for the SNDT College student on January 11, when she lost both her arms in Ghatkopar station while trying to board a train. While experts say she will require hours of painful practice to be able to write properly or use her hand to eat, they added that it was encouraging — and inspiring — to see the gritty teenager show improvement in her muscle strength and arm movement in just the fourth practice session.
“She experienced a lot of pain when she first started using the prosthetic arms, as they felt extremely heavy. But she is now starting to get used to wearing them, and on Tuesday, even managed to hold a pen for around 10 minutes and write her name in capitals,” said a beaming Kavita, Monika’s mother.
The Kurla resident is now a regular visitor to the Chembur offices of Otto Bock, the firm that manufactured the prosthetic arms. Training sessions are on in full swing, and the progress is palpable. “The components were brought from Germany and assembled here. We recently completed the process of fitting the socket. The myoelectric arms will read muscle signals, amplify them and then send them to the arms,” said Jemin Chauhan, centre manager at Otto Bock, a company based in Germany.
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The prosthesis runs on electrically charged batteries and needs to be recharged once every 48 hours. As it isn’t waterproof, Monika has been given another pair of cosmetic prosthetic arms, which she can use while bathing, or simply when she is performing tasks that don’t involve movement of her wrists or hands.
“We are very happy with how well she is doing. She was able to lift her left hand up to her face in the fourth session. She was able to write briefly. However, it will be long before she can write properly,” added Chauhan.
mid-day paid a visit to the centre to speak to the More family. Monika was found hard at work, sending signals to the prosthesis by lifting wooden blocks, one at a time, and placing them back in the moulds. “I still experience pain in the stump, where my arms were amputated. But, I don’t find them heavy or uncomfortable any more,” said the plucky teenager.
Her left arm, which was amputated two inches or so below her elbow, is stronger and easier to manoeuvre than her right arm, which was amputated right above her elbow. Despite this, Monika persevered to write with her right hand. “I saved the paper where she wrote her name in capitals, to encourage her to keep pushing herself,” said Kavita.
Two gloves matching Monika’s skin tone are now being prepared. These will be used to cover the prostheses, and give it a more natural appearance. The prosthetic arms will require maintenance once every six months, costing the More family R30,000 per year. The myoelectric prosthetic arms can bear up to 8 kg weight, and is one of the most expensive such sets available in the country.
Dr Pradeep Bhosale, head of the orthopaedic department at KEM Hospital, said, “The two sets of prosthetic arms will be handed over to Monika in the first week of June, after all the paperwork and payments are done. Till then, the practice sessions will continue in Chembur, to prepare her for the new form of technology.”
The sockets of the prosthetic arms have small windows with electrodes, which read muscle signals. After amplifying those signals, it is sent to the wrists and fingers to complete complex functions such as writing.
The electrodes are placed on the forearm muscle. The strength of the muscle signals is tested before deciding what kind of prostheses will be given to the patient.