Every member of the limb different community has a personal story. Each story is different and unique to the individual, with some being born without limbs or partial hands, partial fingers.. Some face the unfortunate and emotionally heavy circumstance of an illness or accident that requires surgical amputation. Others may face traumatic events that cause a limb to be lost immediately. No matter how someone comes to be a member of the limb different community, which is over 3 million in the United States, everyone has a journey of recovery or adaptation, with different levels and ways of overcoming everyday obstacles and challenges. Such is the case for quadruple amputee Torie Mugo.
In February 2023, Torie was fitted with two custom Hero Arms at the Open Bionics Denver, Colorado clinic. Since then, Torie has found new ways in being able to use her arms and fingers again. A team member at Open Bionics, Lucas Slusher had the opportunity to chat with Torie about her journey thus far.
Q: Please start with your beginnings, tell us about yourself!
A: I was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and I’m 42 years old. Growing up in Kenya was fun, I went to boarding school from 6th grade all through high school. That gave me good experience with handling things on my own. When I graduated my parents suggested that I move to the USA, and I moved here at 19! I finished college with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and got my masters in international business.
Q: Can you share with us how you became limb different?
A: Four years ago, in January 2019, I got pneumonia, which turned septic. Unfortunately, with that experience, I ended up in a coma for a month. I went through ecmo (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), life support, and I had a trachea inserted because my lungs failed. It was hard for my entire family. My parents didn’t live here, I had a three-year-old and my auntie here with me.
Q: At what point did things begin to show improvement and how was the amputation decided on?
A: My lungs did begin to show signs of improvement at about week 4, so I was taken off the life support but kept the trachea. Because of the ecmo, my hands didn’t get blood circulation and were necrotic, same with my legs. There was no way they would have recovered. I was just happy to be alive, and in March we amputated.
“Open Bionics was the best thing that has happened for me so far this year.”
Q: Can you dive into the aftermath and your initial recovery process?
A: April was my discharge, and being in the hospital for three months and having someone always there to watch in case something were to happen was a change. But I pushed myself – I remember looking at a collage of pictures my family had made, and I just wanted to run again.
Q: Was running a big passion of yours prior to your surgery?
A: Yes, I was an avid athlete before all this happened, so that was all I wanted to get back to doing – running. When I told that to my parents, their response was “one step at a time.” But my end point, my focus, was if I am able to run again I think I’ll be okay. I ended up doing my own physical therapy because I couldn’t afford it officially at the time.
Q: So what did you do?
A: A friend put me in contact with an NGO (non-governmental organization), but the process was slow, and I was told the earliest I could do therapy with them was six months after I was discharged, so there’s a window of months where I’m thinking “what do I do? Stay home and do nothing?” My solution was buying stretch bands from Amazon, working out my arms and my legs every day, which was difficult, but I was determined.
Q: Was this the point where you considered prosthetics may help you?
A: I got my first prosthetics in July, but again, no physical therapy yet. But I told my dad “I am going to walk.” My dad was so proud the moment I first stood up, for me to see the smile on his face was great. My prosthetist told me to just stand on them and wear them every day, that way I’d get used to them. By the end of July, I was walking on my own.
Q: When did Open Bionics come into your journey? How did you hear about the company?
A: Open Bionics was the best thing that has happened for me so far this year. I learned about them through a symposium at the Limb Preservation Foundation and Skills for Life in Houston Texas. At the event I tried the Hero Arm and thought “this is the one. It’s not heavy, it looks efficient.”
Q: And did you sign up interest to begin the fitting process?
A: Funny enough, after I signed up at the symposium, I forgot all about it! Then in January 2023, Open Bionics contacted me and asked if I wanted to come to Denver to test it again. Of course, I wanted to know how to fund them because I needed two Hero Arms.
Q: What happened next?
A: I was told I was going to do a training program with the Hero Arm, and on the final day, Elise (Upper Limb Prosthetist at Open Bionics) came out with two boxes and told me to open them. At this point, I thought I was still testing. But Elise told me that there was an anonymous donation for both Hero Arms!
“At the event I tried the Hero Arm and thought “this is the one. It’s not heavy, it looks efficient.”
We will have more to share about Torie’s story during September, which is recognized as Sepsis Awareness Month. During that story, we’ll dive deeper into Torie’s experience and recovery, as well as her day-to-day with her Hero Arms, so stay tuned! If you are interested in beginning your own bionic journey with Open Bionics, please follow the link below to register interest in the Hero Arm.
The Hero Arm uses myoelectric sensors which detect underlying muscular contractions generated from specific muscle groups in the arm. These are then amplified and converted into intuitive and proportional bionic hand movements. Each Hero Arm is custom-built for optimal comfort, and fits like a glove.