Welcome back to part two of our chat with quad amputee and double Hero Arm user Torie Mugo. If you missed the first part of the interview, please visit the Q&A here. A few months ago, Torie was fitted with two custom Hero Arms at the Open Bionics Denver, Colorado clinic after losing all her limbs to sepsis. Each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 1.7 million adults in the US develop sepsis. Torie fought her battle with sepsis and won. Now, she’s using her experience to better her life and help others. We had the opportunity to chat with Torie about her journey thus far, and this time we’ll dive into more detail on Torie’s hospital and recovery experience, rounding off with how she is now using her time and energy to volunteer to help others.
Q: Welcome back Torie! Please remind our readers where you are from and a bit of background.
A: I was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and I’m 42 years old. I moved to the US at 19 and went to college for a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a masters in international business.
Q: You’ve had your Hero Arms for a while now. How are you getting on with them? What are some ways you’ve put them to use?
A: My Hero Arms have improved my efficiency in a lot of ways! When I’m traveling, my suitcase is easy to hold. I no longer need to remember to bring my eating aid. Drinking from a cup is easier and comfortable, especially when liquids are hot or cold. Overall, picking things up is easier, even simple things like running my fingers through my hair. I can’t wait to continue to discover what else I can do with them. So far, I’m very grateful.
Overall, picking things up is easier, even simple things like running my fingers through my hair
Q: For those just now reading, can you share how you became limb different?
A: Four years ago, I got pneumonia which turned septic. Unfortunately, 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.
Q: I imagine going through that initially was very scary and difficult.
A: It was hard for me and my entire family. My parents didn’t live here, and I had a three-year-old and my auntie here with me. It looked like I wasn’t going to make it, they had me only at 2% that I would make it, and the doctors needed my parents to be here.
Q: Unimaginable. When did things begin to show signs of improvement?
A: My lungs showed signs of improvement after 4 weeks, so I was taken off life support but kept on the trachea so that my lungs could build up more strength.
Q: How was it decided that amputation was necessary?
A: Because of the ecmo, my hands and legs didn’t get blood circulation and were necrotic. Ecmo takes blood out of certain systems to oxygenate vital organs, so there was no way my limbs would have recovered. I was just happy to be alive. We waited to amputate because my body needed to be stable enough to withstand the operations.
Q: Can you dive into the aftermath and your initial recovery process?
A: Being in the hospital for three months and having someone always there to watch in case something was to happen was a change. It was nerve racking at first because my lungs and heart were weakened by the whole ordeal. Moving from one spot to another was a challenge.
Q: Did you do any type of therapy or training?
A: I had to do my own physical therapy because I couldn’t afford insurance at the time. That was a rough position because my thought was “when I leave the hospital, then what?” A friend put me in contact with an NGO (non-governmental organization), but the process was slow and needed board approval. I was told the earliest I could do therapy with them was six months after I was discharged, so I thought: “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.
Q: What motivated you to keep pushing through?
A: I remember looking at a collage of pictures my family had made, and I just wanted to run again. I was an avid athlete before all this happened, so that was all I wanted to get back to. When I told that to my parents, their response was “one step at a time.” But my focus was if I could run again, I’d be okay.
I just wanted to run again…my focus was if I could run again, I’d be okay
Q: Was this also 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 the month I was fitted with leg prosthetics, I was walking on my own. It was all mind over matter!
Q: What came next for you?
A: That fall, I participated in a sepsis run event in Colorado. I ended up walking with the runners at the end portion of the 5K! It was amazing because to find myself in that type of environment encouraged me to keep pushing on. From there, I got running blades through a grant program – Challenge Athletes Foundation. They offer grants for those who cannot afford adaptive sport equipment.
Q: What other activities have you started participating in?
A: I do volunteer work, Limb Preservation Foundation is a great group. We are doing a golf event this month and I’m on the committee that’s putting that on. It’s exciting! If anyone calls me for any event, I go. I started a sepsis support group at my hospital for those who may be facing a similar situation as I did.
Final thoughts: Torie, your journey is one of overcoming challenges, and pursuing passions before sepsis. We are proud to see that you’ve begun to reassimilate and volunteer to help others, as well as use your Hero Arms to do the little things people may take for granted. We can’t wait to see what you do next.
If you are interested in trialing a Hero Arm for free, be sure to click on the link below to begin your bionic journey!
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.