Great first day of fundraising for Shade

 

Shade trying out the MyoPro’s sensors

Shade’s fundraiser to help get him mobile again started off amazing. In 24 hour, he raised 1/4 of the total necessary funds to get the Myomo Myopro robotic orthotic and the LifeGlider ambulatory device. It shouldn’t be long before Shade is back on his feet and using his arm again.

For those just tuning in, the Myopro is a robotic arm orthotic that will be custom made to Shade’s arm. With the use of sensors like those EKG thingies you have at the doctor, the device will pick up signals when Shade wants to move his arm and translate those to the robot arm. So even if Shade can’t move his arm, the robot arm will do it for him. That means he’ll be able to stretch it out and pick up a glass, grab a door handle and turn it, or defend the galaxy against xenomorphs.

The LifeGlider is like a walker but very different. It straps around Shade’s body so that his center of balance is supported. That way, he isn’t leaning forward and likely to fall. Then he can practice walking without the worry of tipping sideways and bashing his head against the counter. It will also improve his ability to dance the tango.

Both of these devices are going to help Shade achieve independence. Please spread this message around to all your friends and local businesses. Let’s get Shade mobile again!

To donate to Shade’s fundraiser, click here.

Standing on his own two feet

Wheelchair users are faced with multiple challenges. The most obvious are physical, accessibility being on the forefront of the ADA’s agenda. However, a subtler issue that always bothered me is the social obstacle. Wheelchair users are not at most people’s eye level, which makes a huge difference when conversing. Don’t believe me? Have you ever been standing at a party and started chatting to a person sitting? That conversation doesn’t last long without one of you changing position.

Shade hanging out with family friends

Something as simple as being face to face makes a huge difference in social situations. It’s something I always took for granted until Shade had his stroke. I remember years ago, dropping Shade off early at high school. I parked and sat in my car, watching Shade circle the tight clusters of chatting kids, unsuccessfully trying to insert himself into a conversation. Shade’s wheelchair was too bulky to infiltrate the groups. Even if he did get into the circle, because he was sitting, he was often ignored, not out of malice but because he wasn’t face to face. I sat in the car sobbing, cursing my son’s cruel fate. (Yeah, I’m a big crybaby. You should see me at Pixar movies.) Of course, our close friends who have known Shade for most of his life are aware of Shade and make great efforts to include him in conversations. But think of all the everyday situations where people look right over him. And Shade is a friendly dude, not shy at all. I can’t imagine how tough this might be for a person who isn’t as outgoing as him.

Shade has leg strength.

The thing is, Shade can stand. His true issue isn’t leg strength; it’s balance. He tends to topple, especially if he tries to lift a leg to walk. Thus, for safety issues, he’s been relegated to a wheelchair. Shade can stand if he has handles to hold or a counter to lean against, but it’s only for short bouts, for example, to put a cup away or clean his teeth. He can walk, too, but only when assisted by another, and even then balance becomes an issue with each step for both himself and the assistant trying to keep him upright. You can imagine the ordeal this causes Aitza, who is hobbit-sized.

We’ve tried walkers but they’re too dangerous for him. Walkers are held out in front of the body. This causes the user to bend forward, throwing all the weight forward and using the device as an unstable prop. A walker is liable to shoot out from under the stooped-over ambulator, leaving the poor soul splayed out on the sidewalk and hoping the crack he heard wasn’t a hip. Consequently, we’ve never allowed Shade to use a walker alone and have all but tossed them.

The LifeGlider

Recently Shade’s uncle Edwin (Tio Loco) discovered a new device called the LifeGlider. Like a walker, the LifeGlider is an ambulatory assistive device, but it is designed to support the body’s center of gravity so that the user can stand upright. That means hands-free walking … real walking like the body was meant to do.

The LifeGlider has restored my confidence in assistive walking devices. One video on the website shows a user transitioning from a walk to a full Superman­ – legs off the ground, arms splayed out front – and then effortlessly swinging his feet back on the ground. With this kind of balance support, Shade may be able to start walking around the house again. This will help strengthen his legs and give him more confidence in his own balance. Given enough practice, perhaps he could use it at work or in social situations. Who knows what other opportunities might open up if he could stand on his own two feet again?

Like I mentioned in the last blog, we will soon be fundraising for this device and the MyoPro robotic arm (now with flame throwers). Keep your eyes open for the upcoming news.

Shadenator 9000: The Rise of the Shade-borg!

Let’s salute the great cyborgs of our time. RoboCop, Darth Vader, Inspector Gadget, and now the Shadenator 9000, the latest development in Shade technology. But first, this sci-fi tale needs some backstory.

As you are likely aware, Shade’s last two strokes three years ago (17 y.o) paralyzed his left side, wiping out any progress he’d made since his first stroke when he was twelve. (We’d just got him walking again, damn it!) Because his left arm and hand are so weak, they have tightened up, contracting the arm like an L and keeping his fist closed. This caused a vicious cycle. Because tasks are so hard to complete with his left arm and hand, he uses his right, and thus his lefty gets weaker and tighter. We were worried he might lose all use of it.

Then Aitza told me about a friend who started using a robotic device after his stroke and got full use of his arm again. And that’s how we discovered Myomo. It’s not a cult, I swear, though I may be an apostle after Shade and I went to try one out last week with Myomo representative Heather Ward.

Myomo, a contraction of My Own Motion, produces the MyoPro, a powered upper-extremity orthosis that’s straight out of a fanboy’s wet dream. The robotic brace straps on the recipient’s arm from shoulder to fingers. Soft bracelets embedded with sensors are worn on the upper arm and forearm. Like an EMG, they pick up myoelectric signals from the brain that trigger the muscles to contract and move the limb. These signals simultaneously trigger the robot’s motors to move the orthotic in accordance with the desired action. So if Shade wants to extend his arm, that signal is mimicked by the device, which will extend, adding strength to his own arm and allowing him to stretch it out.

Even if the wearer cannot naturally move part of the arm, as long as the brain signal is there, it can be boosted to a level where the orthotic will move it for him/her. For example, Shade cannot move his wrist up and down no matter how much he mentally strains to do so. However, on her laptop, Heather boosted his EMG signal and the robot moved the wrist up and down. Brain power.

Heather demonstrates the MyoPro.

What this means is when Shade straps on his assistive MyoPro robo-brace, he should be able to perform functions with that arm that he’s been unable to do since his second stroke. Things like putting dishes on a high shelf, grabbing a water bottle off a table or petting his precious cat Cheetah. And because he’ll be using his arm more, it will strengthen and loosen up and he may be able to start using his arm more without the device. Plus, I’m shooting for the upgraded version with the laser cannons on it. Pyew, pyew!

What’s more, we’re looking at another device that may help Shade get back on his feet. We’re going to have a fundraiser soon to help with the expense of this device. I’ll tell you about the other device and the upcoming fundraiser in the next blog. Once we get these devices the Shadenator 9000 will be launched.

 

How to freeze time

All you would-be wizards, mad scientists and time lords, get your notebooks out. I’ve discovered the secret to freezing time. First, get a hotel on the outskirts of Durham near nothing worth visiting. Second, make sure you do not have a car so that any journey away from said hotel is a bit of a hassle, thus inducing you to stay put. Third, in your room, draw those thick curtains that block out all sunlight. Fourth, have plenty of snacks and drinks stockpiled in your mini-fridge. Fifth, make sure you share the room with someone that needs a lot of bed rest. If you manage to maintain these five steps for an extended period, time itself will grind to a halt. Night and day will cease to exist. Presumably, if you can keep this going, you will not age though you may feel like you’re a thousand years old. Side effects may include a trance-like state involving sitting on the edge of your bed and watching 1990s reruns with repetitive insurance commercials and/or a desire to smother yourself to death with hotel pillows.

Of course, for Shade, the hotel stay was a welcome respite from the noisy, smelly, glaring confines of the hospital ward. He basically hibernated for three days while his face healed. His cheek has swollen up a bit, which was expected. Mr. Chipmunk hasn’t quite released his grip. But Shade has experienced little to no pain. He doesn’t even take pain pills. IMG_5333Meanwhile, I’m popping Ibuprofens like candy because I was foolish enough to break my hand a week back while in Denver. (Long story short: Some malevolent no-good-nik attacked my fist with his nose.) I’ve been hunched over the keyboard two-finger typing these updates like a stereotypical beat cop writing up the day’s arrest reports. Please forgive any typos.

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Shade’s first meal out

The day Shade was released from the hospital, Dr. Phillips referred us to Kathryn Walker, a smile therapist. (Just when you thought there were no new job titles left!) She works with patients who have facial procedures or suffer setbacks in facial operation to help them get back their smile. We weren’t there long as Shade couldn’t perform the therapy yet. He needs a couple months of healing first. But Kathryn did give us a list of smile-building exercises, which I have deemed “yummy therapy.” To strengthen the right side of his face, she suggested chewing Bubbalicous bubble gum on that side. Aitza recommended watermelon flavor though I’m a traditionalist and believe he’d get better results with bubble-gum flavored bubble gum. (Perhaps I’m just boring. The other evening, I walked down to Cookout, a local burger joint that offers 40 flavors of shake. I panicked at the overwhelming selection and just got vanilla.) Another therapy involves moving a lollipop from one side of his mouth to the other, starting with a big BlowPop and working his way down to a tiny Dum-Dum. To me, however, that sounds counterintuitive. No one wants to graduate from BlowPops to Dum-Dums. You learn that during your very first Halloween candy-trading session.

IMG_5284After an eternity at the Hilton, we’re finally heading home. (I’m writing this on the plane.) We stopped by Dr. Phillips’ office first and he gave Shade a quick examination and took photos for before/after comparisons. The swelling is causing a bit of eye droop, but the doc says after the swelling subsides, he expects Shade’s face to be almost symmetrical. Next, step: Getting a symmetrical smile. Bring on the lollipops!

 

The Lost Island of Atlantis

“And in a single day and night … the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea.” That was the ancient philosopher Plato’s description of Shade’s recent facial reanimation procedure, during which Dr. Marcus and Dr. Phillips removed excess fat and skin from the right side of Shade’s face. Skin Island has vanished, much to the chagrin of the tiny monkey’s living in the curly coconut trees thereabouts. Its whereabouts have become the grist of speculation, superstition and legend.

58309199613__69741F8A-42AF-4DFA-8F3F-3510EE4CA848In other words, Shade’s surgery was a complete success. Dr. Phillips explained that they did not have to touch any muscle in the process; the excess skin from the graft was completely removed; his natural cheek skin was stretched over the muscle and glued down with a biological glue; and Shade was left with a single thin scar along his jawline. Presumably, once the swelling reduces (Mr. Chipmunk still has a bit of a grip), his scar will be barely noticeable.

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So symmetrical!

The surgery was quite short – two and a half hours total – a breeze compared to his last procedure, which was ten hours. Upon his waking, I took a picture of him from the front and his face is nearly symmetrical. I showed the pic to Shade, who in his post-anesthetic delirium, slurred, “I look like a fucking super-model.” Yes, you do, Shade. Yes, you do.

 

Unfortunately, the hospital was packed so there were no private rooms available and Shade and Aitza had to spend the night in a post-op ward with only one of those thin shower-curtain dealies to block out light and noise. Little use with those glaring florescent hospital bulbs and the grown man next door sobbing uncontrollably. (Not sure why, but he did all night.) Double the problem that the cubicle was right next to the nurse’s station and the bathroom, so they had the pleasure of listening to the night shift cackling, giggling and flushing overflowing urine jugs all through the wee hours. As if to taunt Shade and Aitza, the computer monitor in the room kept flashing a screensaver with a kid doing the international “Shh” sign with his finger and a message saying: “Please keep it quiet while healing is happening.” Yeah, right.

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Oreos make it all worth it.

When I returned to the hospital this morning, Shade and Aitza had the bloodshot thousand-yard stares of combat survivors. But they’re war veterans by now and shook it off quickly, especially after I brought Shade some Oreos. After all, it was time to leave the battlefield and return to the soft, quiet beds of the Hilton, where Shade is now snuffling gently amongst a pile of fluffy pillows. The next few days will be devoted to rest and recovery until his final appointment on Friday and then home.

 

 

Goodbye Mr. Chipmunk

IMG_0023Shade, Aitza and I are back in the lovely township of Durham, NC, for Shade’s final (hopefully) procedure at Duke University Hospital. We flew up yesterday (My third day in a row in an airport. Oh, the glorious world of travel.) and got upgraded to Comfort, which means our legs were not folded up under our chins for the 1.5-hour flight. This is the Shade advantage. People like to give him stuff. He said he wants to monetize this situation by selling wheelchairs outside the airport but I explained that then the pre-boarding line for people with disabilities would have 200 people in it, so it would backfire on him. I like his entrepreneurial spirit though, however misplaced.

For those new to Shade’s medical journey, a recap: After 12-year-old Shade suffered a debilitating stroke on July 14, 2011, he had right-side facial paralysis (among many other traumatic issues), leaving him with half a smile, an eye that wouldn’t fully close, and some serious lip and cheek chewing. Imagine the feeling when a dentist has numbed your face for dental surgery, but it lasts for the rest of your life.  With no movement, his IMG_6447muscle deteriorated to the point that his cheek was flat. After much research, I found Dr. Marcus, the nerve/muscle graft guru known here as the Smile Doctor, whose specialty is facial reanimation, bringing back life to paralyzed faces. So last year he took a nerve from Shade’s leg and grafted it from his left cheek across his upper lip to his right cheek like an extension cord. He let that get cozy for 6 months and then last December grafted muscle from his thigh into his cheek. Because the skin on his cheek had tightened so much, Dr. Phillips, his plastic surgeon, had to add skin from his thigh as well to cover the extra muscle and fat added underneath. I just found out the graft area is known as the skin island, well named as the pale thigh skin seems to float in a sea of his ruddy facial skin.  I guess that makes the weird thigh hairs growing on this island the coconut trees. He ended up with what Shade deemed “a chipmunk cheek.” Between that and the scars and the skin island, he got his share of stares, but Shade is impervious to stares. It’s one of his super powers.

We checked in this morning to the hospital, and both Dr. Marcus and Dr. Phillips visited. They were all grins at Shade’s grin, which is getting more symmetrical as the right side of his face wakes up. Dr. Marcus was happy when Shade said he gets pins a needles in his face, another great sign of the new nerve and muscle coming to life, and he was pleased with Shade’s nasolabial fold, your vocabulary term of the day. That’s the groove on each side of your nose that go to the corners of your lip, which deepen as you smile. Shade hasn’t had one on his right side for years.

IMG_3913The doctors consulted with us about this procedure, which thankfully will be much less invasive. (The last one took months of healing including multiple stays in the hospital over Christmas.)  Dr. Marcus’s plan is to debulk the area under the skin. I guess the last procedure was the bulking part. They put extra fatty tissue under the cheek to ensure he’d have enough matter underneath, after the swelling subsided, to make the sides symmetrical. Had I known this term, his cheek would have been nicknamed the Incredible Bulk. Oh well, missed opportunities.

Dr. Phillips will next remove the skin island, or at least as much as possible. The grafted skin over the site is quite loose, and he said he’ll trim it little by little until the area is covered properly. At worst, Shade may have a small strip of grafted skin along his jaw line. We’re hoping for full removal because that patch is hell to shave.

Shade went into surgery at 11:08 a.m. I’ll update you, post-chipmunk removal.

 

 

 

Do better Access Lynx

IMG_9844Access Lynx, the bus service for the disabled in Orlando, is a great ride idea but it FAILS miserably. (Sorry, but I’m going to use ALL CAPS in this because I’m ticked off.) HORRIBLE ONLINE PLATFORM! HORRIBLE PHONE WAIT! Though Shade has some brain damage from his stroke, he can use most web platforms without problem. He’d never be able to use Access Lynx though, so we have to do it for him and it’s difficult for us. I can’t imagine how many people who need the service have been stymied by the site. Here are a few issues.

1. The dated website is bulky and hard to use. It feels like it was built in the 90s. Not user friendly and very confusing. On the booking page, important information is missing like the place to add pick up and drop off locations with no clear explanation of where to do this. The place to add locations is on a completely different page and we had to call the office to figure this out. See next for why adding the locations is horrible.

2. Want to go somewhere? Well, you’re out of luck if you don’t plan THREE DAYS AHEAD. You have to email pick up and destination locations 72 HOURS BEFORE any trip! And each added location is a different email. Then you must hope the staff puts the locations into your profile (I’ve yet to see it added); otherwise, if not added, you cannot access those locations. My son wanted to book a trip to the movies for the next day. Too bad for him. He needed to plan that three days in advance. RIDICULOUS! Imagine if any other taxi service worked like this.

So you absolutely need to get a ride in under 72 hours? Just call Access Lynx offices. Yeah, right. See below why this is an issue.access lynx

3. I tried to book a ride multiple times online to the same pick up and drop off points Shade goes to weekly and, surprise, surprise, was told there was a PROBLEM with the booking. No explanation why it didn’t work even though it’s the same spots each time we book. A note popped up to call the help line. I was ON HOLD FOR 38 MINUTES! (See pic for proof. I took it as soon as someone picked up.) Who has that kind of time to wait? But with the website not working, I’m forced into this situation. Imagine if Shade had to wait that amount of time. He’d never be able to go anywhere.

Note: Once I got through, the assistant did help. I have nothing bad to say about the staff beyond the long hold wait.

Access Lynx is a much needed service but the website needs an overhaul and there needs to be more staff to handle the phones. IT’S NOT JUST BAD, IT’S CRUEL to the people who need this most. Please fix it, Access Lynx. #accesslynx

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