In June of 1996, at the age of 57, Phyllis Frohlich lost her left arm in an automobile accident. As the truck she was driving careened down the highway embankment, Phyllis’s left arm crashed through the window and was severed above the elbow. Her husband, Ron, used her white rope belt as a tourniquet to prevent Phyllis from bleeding to death before help arrived. Phyllis credits wearing seat belts as to the reason why she and her husband survived the crash.
At the hospital, Phyllis was agitated that her wedding rings and bracelets were lost with her missing arm. The emergency room doctor sent an orderly out to search for the arm. He brought it back in a cooler, jewelry and all.
Phyllis was in the hospital for ten days. She went through a tough stage wondering why this would happen to her; someone who used her hands in her profession and her hobbies. Phyllis was a hairdresser before the accident. She also loved to cook, craft, knit, sew, garden, and was left handed to boot. “I thought I would never again be able to do the things I loved to do,” says Phyllis.
One night a nurse came into Phyllis’s room and sat down on her bed. “She told me I needed to start practicing writing with my right hand so when I went shopping I could sign the receipts. She talked about my children and seeing my grandchildren someday. She showed me all the reasons why I should want to live. She said to concentrate on the things I would be able to do, not to dwell on what I couldn’t do.” According to Phyllis, she was an angel in a nurse’s uniform.
Her arm took nine months to heal and she needed several skin grafts. Although the surgeon saved her life, he unfortunately didn’t think about a prosthesis when he was closing her wound. “I was a difficult fit because of that,” says Phyllis. “Nor did he, or anyone else at the time, advise me to start exercising right away to strengthen the muscles I would need to wear a prosthesis. I did it anyway. I exercised for four months, three to four hours a day, trying to strengthen and build up the muscles in my residual limb,” Phyllis reminisces.
“In August of 1996, during a road trip to Georgia, we stopped at the Paralympics in Atlanta. It was there that I saw a demonstration of the myoelectric arm and I knew then, that was the arm for me. A myoelectric arm works by contracting your bicep and tricep muscles. To raise your arm, squeeze your bicep; to lower it, squeeze your tricep. Fire up both muscles at the same time,” says Phyllis, “to move your wrist or hand.”
“I interviewed with three different companies to get fitted for this arm. All three turned me down. The prosthetists told me I wasn’t a candidate because I was too old, or my frame was too small or I wasn’t strong enough to use the heavy arm,” says Phyllis. “Then, I found Hanger and they said, YES! Hanger’s prosthetist told me I was the first female patient that he had treated that wanted function over beauty. But I had real motivation. My first grandchild was about to be born and I wanted to hold that baby, change her diapers, and play with her. I wanted to do all things a grandmother does,” enthuses Phyllis.
Phyllis worked hard with her physical therapist, spending many hours putting square pegs in square holes, round pegs in round holes. “Until I could stand it no more,” exclaims Phyllis. “I wanted to work on things that would help get my life back to normal again.” The next day they were peeling potatoes and changing diapers on a baby doll.
“Today, I can do just about everything I did before the accident, just a little bit slower. I use my sewing machine, garden, cross-stitch instead of knit, and most importantly I can take care of my grandbaby. At three weeks old I was changing her diapers and at two months she was spending the night with us. In the beginning I would put my arm on the floor and let her play with it so she wouldn’t be afraid of it. Now, it doesn’t even faze her,” says Phyllis.
“Without Hanger I wouldn’t be where I am today. Working with Hanger was a wonderful experience. I highly recommend them,” Phyllis exclaims.
Phyllis actively volunteers (cooking for 60 kids) each summer at a camp for children with limb loss, Adventure Amputee Camp, located in Bryson City, North Carolina. “These kids have a ball. They go white water rafting, horseback riding, and water-skiing. They even conquer a ropes course. They can do it all.”
“My advice to anyone new to limb loss is to start exercising right away, so you don’t loose muscle tone in your residual limb. You’re going to need those muscles for your prosthesis. Also, educate your insurance company. Give them as much information as you possibly can so you get the prosthesis that’s right for you. Finally, try to contact someone that’s in your situation. Someone who has been there and done that. It would have made my life easier if I had been able to talk to someone. Ask your prosthetist for a name or two.”