April 10th, 2019 | Published in Amputee Stories
Motivated is a word that describes Jade (Yook-Hiam) Lai perfectly.
A hard-working woman with many skills and abilities, Jade speaks a half-dozen languages (including English and her native Mandarin); works full time for the Chinese Community Center (CCC) in Houston as a receptionist and translator; and owns a transportation company that provides taxi services around the area.
Jade also wears two prosthetic arms fit and fabricated by Ted Muilenburg, CP, LP, FAAOP, of Muilenburg Prosthetics, Inc.
Jade became an amputee in 1962. At the age of 18, she was riding in the city bus to school from her home in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Jade remembers the bus swerving on a road under construction. The accident resulted in her arms being amputated.
“The Malaysian government sent me to England to get my prostheses,” Jade said. “They (her prosthetic arms) came from Germany, so I waited a long time to get them. I also went to occupational therapy to learn how to use my arms.”
She returned to Malaysia two years later to finish high school. After graduating, she attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, where she met her husband. The couple married and returned to their native country following the birth of their oldest son and eventually raised three more children in Malaysia. Jade moved to the U.S. permanently in 1993 and settled in Houston to be near her oldest son and his family. Today, all three sons reside nearby; her daughter lives in Indonesia.
Her family also includes a brother, Bernard Lai, his wife, Ann, and their three children, who live in Sydney, Australia. Jade sees Bernard as her number one supporter, the one who treats her to an airline ticket each year so they can visit in Malaysia or Australia.
“We were very close when we grew up because we lost our father when I was seven years old and he was 18 months old,” Jade said. “Our mother and my sister, who is one year younger than me, brought us up. Their job was to wash and iron clothing using only their two hands. (They) worked for a few dollars each until 4 a.m. every day. It was when (we) saw their bitter, hard life that we learned to be strong and never give up in life.”
She added, “I wouldn’t be who I am today if not (for) my brother and my childhood.”
Jade met the team at MPI 17 years ago. Initially, Ted repaired her original arms and hands, which she wore for 26 years. When new prostheses were absolutely required, he fit her with another pair of conventional control arms. Her latest pair was delivered earlier this fall.
“She learned to do everything without fancy components such as flexion wrist and assistive devices,” said Ted. “When I met her initially, it was only to see if I could get parts for the imported German components in her prosthesis. She had her son with her and a tool box of Weed Eater® line, connectors, and rubber bands. He could fix her hook and elbow control cables himself. I remember getting her in contact with the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), which helps pay for prostheses and vocational training. At our next appointment, she told me they would help her if she got a job. When I saw her again, it was very exciting as she was the happiest I had ever seen her. She told me about her job as a school crossing guard and showed me how she used her prosthesis to raise and lower the stop sign she held. The rest is history. She continues to utilize this prosthetic design incorporated with ultralight materials and extra thin laminations that meet her special requirements. We also made hers with the European style of cabling system where the control cables that operate the elbow and hooks run on the opposite side of the arms.”
Because Jade is small in stature, and wanted them lighter, Ted switched her to medium or adolescent-sized components that are lighter but left the adult-sized hooks for her hands to enable her to grasp large objects. According to Ted, she opted for two hooks. Her previous prosthesis had a mechanical hand on the left but, to keep her arms as light as possible, she switched to a lightweight aluminum hook.
Unique socket designs include holes for comfort and to help keep her residual limbs cool. “She wears a split socket design on her right side with step-up joints and a split housing cable system that allows her to flex her arm up to her mouth for eating,” Ted said.
“I always wear the same kind (of arms),” Jade added. “But Ted makes them much lighter than the original pair. The sockets feel much better and I use less energy and strength to open and close my hands with the newest design.”
Jade’s case does present a few challenges. Her residual limbs are varied lengths with a short, below elbow on the right side, and short, mid-length above the elbow on the left. “Ted figures out exactly what I need,” she said. “He knows my hands are very special because I have such a short elbow. But he is very skilled and makes two joints and two cups so I can use my hands.”
Ted has also developed a few custom options for Jade, including a special watchband that enables her to wear her watch on her arm, and currently he is creating a new hand grip that will fit the paddle for Pickle-Ball, an activity she enjoys!
“Ted is a great problem solver,” Jade added. “If I want something special he figures it out and fixes it for me!”
Ted said, “Her nature is self-motivating. She’s not afraid to do what she has to do to be independent. I enjoy hearing her stories about some of the awkward situations she has gotten herself into and what she had to do to get out of them. She is always on the go.”
Looking toward her future, she set up her transportation business a year ago. Jade Transportation provides rides for people at a nominal charge in the evenings and on weekends. She has a friend who answers the phone and sets up jobs while she is at work and one of her sons is the driver.
Jade refers to this job as her “security” in case she ever has to retire. She understands the value and results of hard work and uses the Chinese numbers that represent “making prosperity every day” (11 and 68) as part of her website’s address, jade1168.com.
While she is very busy with work, she does find time to participate in activities at the CCC such as Pickle-Ball and walking around the track. She also enjoys meeting and talking to people through her work at the center and her taxi service.
She offers this advice for new amputees. “Don’t be sad and don’t give up!” she said. “I never think my life is over. Be happy and help others, too. Ask for help if you need it.” Jade added, “People are kind and always help me!”
“I am really proud of her for being a hard-working person who wants to be independent,” Ted said. “She is a person who never gives up!”