Bionic Woman- Part 1 (The Options)

I am getting a new prosthetic arm! I thought some of you might find it interesting to follow the process with me…

My initial “casting” visit to BioTech in Birmingham, Alabama, was on Friday, April 20th. The prosthetist made a cast on my existing upper left arm, just like casts are made on broken bones. Next he slipped the cast off my arm to use as a mold to size my new prosthesis. He will create a socket (kind of like a removable cast) for my upper arm to slide down in. Then the elbow, forearm, and hand will be attached to that.

Much thought, prayer, and research had preceded that day. In fact, I’d been exploring prosthesis options for almost two years. I went to that appointment with my mind finally made up, but left with a head full of new options to consider. It’s just such a big decision! I will have to live with it for many years. (My present prosthesis is nine years old.) And it’s a huge financial investment.

Here are my options…

I can get an arm like I have now, which is called BODY-POWERED or cable-operated. The prosthesis is held on by a harness across my back with a loop under my “good” right arm. Cables run from the elbow and hand to the harness. When I move my shoulders and upper body certain ways, it pulls the cables to manually lock or unlock the elbow and open or close the hand. The movements are hardly noticeable because I am slick at it.

Or I can get a MYOELECTRIC arm. My upper arm would slide into a socket held on by suction, eliminating the need for a harness. Within the socket would be electrodes, strategically placed to pick up signals from muscle contractions. By flexing various muscles, I could control the actions of the electric elbow and hand.

Here is my dilemma…

I am used to the BODY-POWERED arm; it is second-nature to me as I’ve worn this type since I was one year old. It is less expensive—$10,000 as compared to $25,000. The mechanical parts tend to break down less than myoelectric parts and the parts cost less. Improvements have been implemented since my present arm was built. Now cables, housings, and bolts can be flesh-colored rather than silver; some can be buried out of sight, too.

But with the MYOELECTRIC arm, I could get rid of the harness across my back. That would be nothing short of life-changing. Obviously, it would feel amazing. Not so obviously, I could wear clothes that I’ve never been able to wear before. The myoelectric would also offer increased function, though the learning curve would be a killer. I’d have to relearn even the simplest tasks. And one final thought—what if I don’t like it? I’ll be stuck with my old arm for several more years.

So…I need to make a decision right away. Help! What should I do?


We humans keep brainstorming options and plans, but God’s purpose prevails. Proverbs 19:21 (MSG)

My present arm is on the left


26 thoughts on “Bionic Woman- Part 1 (The Options)

  1. Dave says:

    Becky, I would say give it a shot, but that’s me. You as an upper limb and me as a lower limb, both know every amputee is different.
    You say there is a learning curve. That is true. I have a powered leg now and had to learn to walk different, but your curve I think is way bigger and different.
    As an Amputee Peer Visitor, all I could suggest is to do what would make you the happiest and be best with your style of life.


  2. Jane Franklin Peterson says:

    Go for the new arm! You are young still and smart, and you will figure out what is best for you. But if the new arm makes life easier and better in the long run, I say go for it! Ask God for His direction. He won’t let you down!


  3. Thereca says:

    There are many pros to both. I would say it is a teaching tool for others as well as a learning experience for yourself. I thought of a couple of elders I knew from another church who would not get a computer, did not have a cell phone, I think they would still be in a horse and cart because to them all this new fangled stuff could not be of God. While I am for all having the rights to their beliefs, I would think how this new arm could be such a tool of faith. (Not that you are not already being used in such a special way by our dear Lord.)

    I would be inclined to say go for it, get the upgrade, and let your light continue to shine (whether it is candle, incandescent or halogen…lol). I will pray for your ease in a decision…


  4. Carl Ray says:

    Wow! You are right, this is interesting and fascinating to someone who has never been involved in prosthetics in any way before. I had no idea how they worked (even had to double check to see if I spelled the word correctly). I did not know there was a harness you had to wear. I know you say you have always had that and I assume it would be second nature to you, but I would think losing that would be as you say life changing!
    If the electronic one had a malfunction or some piece of it quit working, is there a manual override that could be used or would it be rendered useless till fixed? Do they offer a plan that as technology improves, you can get the updated functions/features?
    I, like several others here, know one thing, you are amazingly strong and I have no doubt you will master either one in no time! Praying whatever decision you make allows and helps you to continue your strong witness to your faith!


    • Hey Carl!

      If the myoelectric breaks down, there is no manual override. I’d be stuck. Usually there is no “trade-in” on an updated model as each is made very custom to the wearer.

      Thank you so much for the encouragement!


  5. Mary Lee Glore says:

    No matter what arm you get, you will be an amazing woman of God. It’s a win win choice. You’ll be great with either one.


  6. You are a brave woman! I think you should go for the Electronic Version. Maybe they could implant an IPad-3 in the arm. Then when you need an update, just click “Update” and download all the latest greatest technology for the new arm! Keeping the old version is like keeping an antique car and trying to find some 8 track tapes to play in it! Go for the gold! God bless you as you decide! “Go Where Woman has not Gone Before”!


  7. Rob Pinkston says:

    You’re right, Becky. It is a big decision. I have a few thoughts you may want to ask yourself. First, what is/are some of your goal(s) of your new prosthesis? Nine years is a long time, and certainly you are due for a replacement after all that time, but have you thought about what it is specifically about your current prosthesis you’d like to change? Improvements in function and comfort are usually two of the biggies. In your case, it sounds like you are thinking freedom of the harness might offer improved function and improved cosmetics/clothing factor? Regarding this, it’s safe to say you’ve had some experience with harnessing. I can’t remember if you told me you have tried a self-suspended socket design before? As I’m sure you are well aware, to go without the harness completely, you’d need to have a completely self-suspended prosthetic design. It’s certainly very possible, but quite different for someone accustomed to a harness suspended prosthesis. Also, an externally powered prosthesis will unfortunately weigh more due to the servo motors and batteries that power the prosthesis. You know I could sit here for hours typing out the benefits and pitfalls of both systems, but good old fashion phone conversation may be most fruitful so we can ask questions of one another. I left you my number on your FB message. Since I can’t be there to help you with your fitting, I’d be more than happy to share view points if you’re interested.
    But either way, you’re blessed. Something tells me you could make just about anything work. The question is what would make it better?


  8. Mike Logsdon says:

    Hey Becky,
    I’ll just pray that God gives you wisdom & direction. Follow his lead and I know you’ll make the right decision. Love ya!
    Your BNC Mike Logsdon


  9. Vicki Flores says:

    I am so inclined to tell you to “go big”, take a risk, jump in with both feet!! Of course, the final decision is yours, but sounds like a great opportunity to experience life in a whole new way! Will be praying for God’s guidance as you make this possible life changing decision! Please keep us posted!


  10. Eric Coleman says:

    Hey, very interesting! I think the learning curve might not be as bad as you think. I built a car with a steering wheel on the right hand side once, and I thought it would be really weird shifting with my left hand, but I picked it up really fast! I think being used to doing things harder would make something more comfortable that much easier. Sounds like you’re leaning toward the new one to me; you have my approval! hahahah


  11. Carol Chappel says:

    I can’t imagine how far technology has come in the last nine years let alone how far in your lifetime. Although it is entirely up to you I don’t think you have ever backed down from a personal challenge. New is always more scary than tried and true. Best of luck which ever you chose.



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