Presentation to the MGH Institute of Health Professions.
We were privileged to be invited to speak this fall at a symposium of surgeons, emergency room physicians, and first responders at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions on the topic of treating and rehabilitating amputees after traumatic blast injuries. After the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013, we’ve worked with many of the survivors to help them rehabilitate and adjust to life as an amputee.
Thankfully, we’ve seen these survivors not only recover from their injuries, but thrive in their new lives as amputees, in ways that many of them may not have known they could be capable of prior to that April day. That’s the part of rehabilitation from traumatic injuries that most people don’t think about while they are faced with the more urgent issues of medical care and treatment: the whole-person factor. And that’s where we are proud to say that we are committed to supporting amputees as they adapt to this new life, helping them navigate the mental, emotional and physical hurdles that come with a sudden and unexpected life-altering event, in addition to providing the best possible treatment and technology that’s available and accessible.
Historically, the process of receiving care for a traumatic injury that involves amputation of a limb has always been that the surgeon would make the decision for when and where an amputation was necessary, would conduct the surgery and the hospital would provide wound care, then the patient would be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital for ongoing wound care and treatment. When the patient was fully healed, they would then be referred to a prosthetics facility for measuring, fitting, and customizing of their prosthesis. In theory, this process makes sense, as the more urgent medical treatment must be dealt with before a prosthesis can be fit or tried on, and each of these care providers has a very distinct specialization in their field of work.
However, the part of the process that is finally changing is that prosthetists are being brought into the process much earlier, to meet with patients while they are still undergoing medical treatment, so that we can help them ease the transition to their new life as an amputee. This is incredibly important not just from a mental and emotional standing, but from a physical one as well. The length and functioning of the residual limb (the part of the arm or leg that remains intact after an amputation) often determines the quality and function of the prosthesis that a person can use for the rest of their life. We are now working with the medical community to provide them more information and insight into the differences between different types of prosthetic limbs, so that they are better-informed when making decisions on where and how to amputate. We are able to meet with recent amputees, sometimes even in their hospital rooms, to show them that not only is what they’re going through not the end of the world, they can even achieve what they may never have thought possible. This shift in thinking can help a patient develop a more positive outlook on their situation, which can often help them recover faster and perform better in rehab, which then continues to provide them a better outlook on life.