Oct 29, 2021 - Partners

This Charlotte organization helped a mom of four get a life-changing prosthesis

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This content was created in partnership with OrthoCarolina.

Amy Remer holding her arm as she boards her flight home from Charlotte. Photo via Amy Remer.

Amy Remer is a mom of four who underwent a forequarter amputation after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

A forequarter amputation means that the entire arm is removed, including the shoulder, scapula and clavicle.

  • At first, she was told that there was no prosthesis available for that kind of amputation.

But luckily, the doctors at OrthoCarolina were able to help. And through an organization called Arms for All started by two OrthoCarolina surgeons, Amy’s prosthesis was fully paid for.

We spoke with Amy’s surgeons, Drs. Gaston and Loeffler, as well as Amy herself about the experience.

Dr. Loeffler, Amy Remer, and Dr. Gaston. Photo via Amy Remer.

Why did you start the OrthoCarolina Reconstructive Center for Lost Limbs?

Dr. Loeffler: We saw there was a big need in the community for specialized care for amputees.

We really wanted to create an area where patients could get all their care in one place and we  could facilitate communication between the different providers that were involved in different facets of their care.

  • It also helps create a peer support network. Being able to see somebody who’s six months ahead of you in your progress is so helpful.

Dr. Gaston: There had been very few advancements made in the care of amputees for a long time, so we realized that there was a great opportunity for innovation. At the center, we’ve worked together on something called the Starfish Procedure.

Dr. Loeffler: If a patient has a partial hand, traditional prosthetics didn’t allow for any type of dexterity. So we moved some muscles into the hand to create different signals that could be captured by surface electrodes.

  • It was the first time in the world that someone who had a partial hand amputation could actually control each of the individual digits.

Why did you start Arms for All?

Dr. Gaston: The patients, 100%. One of our immediate frustrations was that we were doing these surgeries that teed patients up for success, but then they couldn’t get a prosthesis. Either their insurance wouldn’t cover it, or they didn’t have insurance.

  • The majority of our patients are young working people. All they want is to get back to work to be productive in society, and they aren’t being afforded that opportunity.

We realized that if we wanted our dreams to come true, we had to make it happen.

Dr. Loeffler: As the name implies, everybody can benefit from a prosthesis, and everybody deserves one. And we can’t let issues like not having insurance be a barrier.

  • This is something that can happen to anybody.

How did you hear about OrthoCarolina?

Amy Remer at OrthoCarolina. Photo via OrthoCarolina.

Amy: I was looking for someone who had experience with my level of amputation, and I had been in contact with a girl in Charlotte who went to OrthoCarolina after she had her arm bit off by a shark. She connected me with them, not knowing anything about Arms for All.

Then, about a week later, Dr. Gaston called me and said ‘we have enough money for our first two recipients and we want you to be one of them.’

  • I’m not speechless very often in my life, but I was legitimately speechless in that moment. I’m so grateful that our paths crossed.

I just think it’s really amazing that the surgeons decided to take this into their own hands and start this organization to help people.

  • I think if more people in the world would see a problem and do something to make it better, this world would be a much better place. 

What has the adjustment to your prosthesis been like?

Amy: I had two arms, and then all of a sudden last September I had one arm. I had to learn how to do life with one arm, and I got really good at that. So as weird as it sounds, now I have to start over and learn how to do life with one arm and a prosthetic arm.

I have two ‘sites;’ one is on my peck muscle, and one is on my trap muscle. In order to close the hand, I have to squeeze my peck muscle. To open it, I squeeze my trap muscle, which was hard to get used to.

What does this prosthesis help you do?

Amy: There’s a lot of tasks that you just need a ‘helping hand’ as I like to call it.

For example, every time you write, you have to brace your paper with something. Or carrying things to my car or unloading groceries, being able to have two hands and two arms is so helpful.

What do your kids think of your new arm?

Amy: Oh, they think it’s so cool. They love to shake my hand over and over. And they want to hold my hand, because they haven’t been able to hold my left hand for over a year.

  • They really want to try it on, but I have to explain that it doesn’t work that way, because they have a shoulder!

You can keep up with Amy’s journey on Facebook and can help more people receive life-changing prostheses by donating to Arms for All.

This content was created in partnership with OrthoCarolina.

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