I Need a Hero (Arm).

A blurred city-scape at night.

By Wiktoria (Wiki) Idzikowska.

Living with limb difference is a reality for thousands of people around the world. I am one of those people. I was born with a limb difference, more specifically an undeveloped left forearm. This came as a shock to medical staff because the limb difference never showed on any of the ultrasound scans, everything seemed fine and ‘normal’; there were no issues or any cause for concern whatsoever throughout the pregnancy. Throughout my life I have often wondered what caused my limb difference, but no medical professional could ever give me an answer – instead I was often greeted with the same sense of confusion and wonder that I felt.

Given the fact that living with a limb difference was my norm, I learned to adapt to life as best as I could from a very young age. Growing up I often found myself wishing that I had both arms so I could be just like the other kids. Fortunately I have always been surrounded by people and friends who saw past my limb difference and never made a fuss (well for the most part anyway) but that did not change the fact that I always felt that wherever I went and whatever I did, people’s eyes would always be on me because I was different. Even going through school, I always felt that no matter how hard I tried or how well I did I was always looked down on because I was not like the other kids.

Living with my limb difference has always been a major insecurity for me. In my teenage years it affected me to such an extent that I did not attend my high school prom because I could not cope with the fact that my residual limb was on show when wearing my dress. However, over the years I learned to adapt the ‘it is what it is’ attitude and got on with life. As I got through school and went to university I learnt to live with and accept my insecurities because I truly believed they would stay with me forever; even now, well into my twenties, I still hide my residual limb in sleeves when going out and about to stop people staring and stopping me in the street to ask ‘what happened?’ and why my arm is the way it is.

Wiki as my bridesmaid, wearing a red off-shoulder lace dress with a black bow.

That was until I discovered Open Bionics and the Hero Arm. I first came across the Hero Arm through a video on Facebook back in 2016, where someone called Tilly shared her story and her bionic journey. As much as I was amazed by her bravery to share her story and the functionality of the Hero Arm  I did not think that it would be possible for me because growing up I would always read or hear stories of ‘revolutionary’ prosthetic arms coming onto the market, none of which were ever affordable and therefore always seemed out of reach. It took a while, but I decided to research Open Bionics to try and find out as much information as I could about the process, cost, etc. Eventually in December 2020 I decided I had nothing to lose and registered my interest in the Hero Arm on the Open Bionics website.

I never expected to hear back from Open Bionics as quickly as I had. Within a few short days of registering my interest I received an invitation for a Hero Arm Assessment. As the day of the  assessment drew closer my excitement grew although I tried not to let myself get too excited. I had so many questions running through my mind, so much uncertainty. I kept thinking to myself ‘what if the Hero Arm isn’t for me, what if my muscles don’t respond the way they should?’

On the day of my initial assessment I travelled down to Bristol and met with the Open Bionics in-house prosthetist Kameron, who was so welcoming and talked me through the process he also answered every single one of my what felt like never-ending questions and put all my worries and uncertainties at rest. Then came time for the moment of truth I got to use the ‘Trial Kit’ and that’s when the magic happened; my muscles responded, and the trial kit began to move! To say I was mind blown would be an understatement, and I was given the go-ahead.

Wiki holding a tennis ball in her bionic arm. The bionic arm is wired up to her left partial arm, but is being held in her right hand to show how it works.

Once everything got the go ahead the only thing I was unsure of at this point was how exactly I would pay for my Hero Arm. Luckily I was fortunate enough to receive support from the Open Bionics Foundation and The Yogscast who offered to partially cover the cost for which I am very grateful.

The following appointment came around quickly, just a few weeks after my initial assessment. During my second appointment everything was finalised, final measurements were taken, and I got to try on my socket which I must say proved to be a challenge! A few small adjustments later everything fit just right.

Now it was just a matter of waiting for my Hero Arm to be built. To my surprise, only three weeks on from my second appointment I received an email to say my Hero Arm was ready to collect. I was so excited I honestly felt like I was on cloud nine, but then my nerves kicked in. Unfortunately, in the past I have had a very unlucky track record when it came to prosthetics. |Usually, they were really uncomfortable and impractical for me to use. They felt more like dead weights rather than prosthetics that were meant to help, so they all ended up somewhere at the back of my wardrobe never to be seen again (other than the occasional time when I would be tempted to use them as Halloween props).

My biggest worry about the Hero Arm was that it wouldn’t fit comfortably, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The day I collected my Hero Arm everything felt so surreal; the arm fit perfectly and was so easy to use, it was lightweight, and it’s safe to say I was positively surprised. Suddenly for the first time in my life I felt like I could do all those things that I have missed out on over the years, the small things that most people will take for granted everyday like holding and using a knife and fork in unison, tying shoes or simply being able to hold things in and pick things up with my left arm.

Wiki in a red top and grey jacket, doing a thumbs up with her bionic arm.

Now almost two months on It still hasn’t fully registered with me that this actually happened, every time I put on and use my Hero Arm, I think back to that wish I made every birthday as a little kid hoping that one day I would be able to experience what it’s like to have both arms. It’s safe to say I never expected it to happen in my lifetime. Never did I think that after twenty-three years of living with a limb difference I would finally be able to experience what it’s like to have both arms, it’s such a surreal feeling. I want to thank the incredible team at Open Bionics from the bottom of my heart for giving me the chance to become part of the amazing Bionic Squad. My bionic journey marked the start of a completely new chapter in my life, one that I thought would never be possible. Now I just need to learn to live life all over again but with both arms this time! The Hero Arm has given me so much confidence already. I don’t think I have worn my sleeves down ever since I first put it on, on collection day. Something that was once my insecurity has now become my superpower one that I am truly proud of.

Wiki petting Tabi, her dog, with her bionic arm.

With thanks to Open Bionics and Tabi the dog.

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