April 10th, 2019 | Published in Amputee Stories
Tracy Peters has a firm grip on her future thanks to a variety of upper limb prostheses she alternates according to the situation. Whether she’s suspended from a ropes course in a rain forest or evaluating the speech of youngsters, this 33-year-old Houston professional is appropriately equipped.
A patient of Ted Muilenburg, CP, for the past few years, Tracy endured a difficult progression before achieving her present level of dexterity.
She became a right below elbow amputee as a result of a bizarre accident that nearly took her life. On December 22, 1999, Tracy rode in an airport shuttle on her way to catch a flight to Kansas City, Mo., to join family for the Christmas holidays. A construction crane was hoisting a load of rebar that, after becoming unbalanced, dropped onto the passing bus. Crushed under the weight, Tracy sustained massive internal injuries, including extensive nerve damage between her right elbow and wrist.
The arm amputation was one of several operations necessary to stabilize her condition. Placed on a ventilator, she spent months in the hospital. In March of 2000, she made her first visit to Muilenburg Prosthetics, Inc., and by May, Tracy stood up in a wedding, wearing a temporary prosthesis. That October, she returned for more occupational therapy training after receiving her next arm. However, medication she was taking for her injuries prompted substantial weight gain.
“We had to split her socket so that we could keep enlarging it as her weight fluctuated,” explained Ted Muilenburg.
By then, Tracy’s doctors indicated that she’d be a good candidate for a myoelectric prosthesis, particularly since there was concern that the harness of her body-powered arm would irritate her scar tissue. In March of 2001, she needed a surgical revision of the amputation and didn’t wear her arm for weeks due to fears regarding skin breakdown.
In June of 2001, Tracy was working with Dr. William Donovan and Shawn Swanson, OT, at The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR) in Houston; she was advised to return to Muilenburg for a myoelectric prosthesis. By then, she was becoming more skilled in using her body-powered and myoelectric arms. Tracy’s options now include a conventional body-powered below elbow prosthesis with both a hand and a hook terminal device, a myoelectric prosthesis with an Otto Bock hand, and a passive, cosmetic arm. The hands of the myoelectric and passive arms feature LIVINGSKIN® silicone gloves for a very natural appearance.
Although Tracy still has some range of motion limitations, she has returned to an active professional and personal life. Employed as a speech pathologist with the Houston school system prior to her accident, Tracy now continues in that role as a consultant with the district.
“I’m primarily testing children who are, on average, three-years-old. In these assessments, I only see the child once — many of them are really young and have severe disabilities,” she explained.
“Some aren’t even aware that I have a prosthetic arm. If they do notice it, I consider that a cognitive marker — that they’ve seen it and make a comment, which is good.”
In addition to her job, Tracy works with a personal trainer to continue to gain strength and agility, and she also travels on missions with members of her church. In all these areas, she is supported by her prosthetic team.
“Muilenburg has really good people who take an interest in helping you through rehabilitation and keeping you happy,” Tracy noted.
Tracy is indebted to her family for ongoing support during her injury and its aftermath. A sister and her family live in Texarcana and her widowed father lives in San Antonio. Strong involvement in Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church has also been important to Tracy’s recovery.
“I’ve gone on several mission trips with my church to Africa and Costa Rica,” she noted. “In Costa Rica, we did a canopy tour of the rain forest, and I was wearing my prosthesis. I speak Spanish, so I could hear how the people who were handling the ropes course were really nervous about my being 100 feet above the floor of the jungle,” she laughed.
“They had me rigged up with a chest harness as well as a waist harness. I did just fine!”
Although Tracy is grateful she’s come so far since the accident, she confesses to occasional twinges about body image.
“Once when I was evaluating a child who was upset about having learning disabilities, I said ‘Joseph, we all have some kind of disability. It’s just that they don’t all show,’” she said softly.
“Now, if I believe that, and I do — then I have to live my life that way. And I intend to!”