In Amplitude‘s last newsletter of 2020, we review the biggest amputee news of the year—and reclaim a few stories from the cutting-room floor.
Amidst all the major events that happened in this chaotic year, 2020 brought a lot of captivating stories about limb loss—way more than Amplitude could cover. Even after we shifted our newsletter to a weekly publishing cycle back in March to bring you more timely information, we couldn’t do justice to every item that deserved your attention.
We think that’s a good thing. It’s a reflection of how many amputees are out there making an impact, and how much attention they’re drawing from people outside the limb-loss community. Since this is Amplitude‘s last newsletter of 2020, we thought we’d point you toward some of the amputee stories you might have missed, plus a few that we never got around to covering for one reason or another.
Coping With COVID
The word “coronavirus” first appeared on our site on March 19, shortly after most of the country went into quarantine. At that confusing and unsettling moment, we took some solace in the words of Patrick Quinn, who said 2020 would test the world’s ability to do what amputees do every day: adapt. “Amputees don’t focus on what they don’t have,” he pointed out. “They work with what they do have, and they find ways to maximize it.”
True to Quinn’s word, amputees spent the year adapting to COVID in all sorts of admirable and ingenious ways. In the early weeks of the pandemic we discovered some hand-washing hacks from upper-limb amputees, a bunch of stay-at-home workouts by and for amputees who couldn’t get out to the gym, and a set of best practices for dealing with anxiety and uncertainty. We learned how limb-loss support groups maintained contact with members while complying with social-distance mandates, and we saluted prosthetics manufacturers who shifted to producing PPE to protect frontline healthcare workers. An Iowa amputee walked us through her first telehealth appointment with her prosthetist, and some members of the US paratriathlon team turned a training ride into a COVID fundraiser. We also were pleasantly surprised to learn how many limb-loss-themed face coverings there are to choose from.
One aspect of COVID we never wrote about was its tendency to cause circulatory problems leading directly to limb loss. A small study fairly early in the pandemic found that blood clots in COVID patients resulted in amputation about eight times as often as clots that occurred in a control group of COVID-negative patients. A handful of high-profile COVID patients lost limbs to the disease, including Broadway actor Nick Cordero (who ultimately died of COVID) and, just this week, White House security chief Crede Bailey. We’ve been waiting for more authoritative data on this issue before we publish a full piece on it, but we still haven’t seen enough studies to write anything. We’ll keep our on eye on this for possible followup in 2021.
Progress in Prosthetics
This technology is advancing so quickly that it’s almost impossible to keep up. (A lot of what we weren’t able to cover got attention from our partner publication, The O&P Edge.) We started out the year investigating gains on the 3D-printing front, as exemplified by the Quatro socket from Quorum Prosthetics. “This is the silver bullet,” Quorum owner (and RAKA) Joe Johnson said at the time. “It’s really the future. It’s as big as your imagination.”
It was also a banner year for so-called smart prosthetics, which use various combinations of artificial intelligence, remote sensing technology, wireless signals, and standard CPU processing to produce devices with extraordinarily life-like function. This is an opportune time to point you toward a project that got cut from our article: North Carolina State’s intelligent leg prosthesis that reads the terrain you’re walking on and adjusts accordingly to ensure stable footing. We’ll offer a look at what 2021 might hold for smart prosthetics in our March/April print issue.
Finally, osseointegration continued its march toward the mainstream in 2020. After talking with one of the nation’s leading osseointegration surgeons and two patients (Munya Mahiya and Cindy Asch Martin), we gained a much better understanding of this procedure’s potential and limitations.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t include a nod to two of our best-read stories about prostheses in 2020: the “believe it or not” quiz about astounding, amazing, incredible prosthesis salvage operations; and the Creative Solutions Contest to design the best adaptive reuse of a prosthesis.
Advancing the Narrative
The audience for stories by and about amputees continued to grow by leaps and bounds in 2020, and Paralympian Lacey Henderson offered a succinct analysis of that trend. Henderson, whose podcast “Picked Last in Gym Class” was featured in our March-April edition, explained that limb loss and other disabilities can “transcend race, gender, and all these things to be accessible even to people who aren’t part of the community. That’s the crazy thing about disability: Anyone can become a member of that group at any time in your life.”
Although Henderson put her podcast on hiatus in 2020 to focus on training for Tokyo, a huge cast of other creators found listeners, readers, and viewers on every kind of platform you can imagine. Social media were particularly fruitful, vaulting a host of new amputee podcasts, YouTube channels, and quad-amputee TikTok dancers to new prominence. The year brought a bestselling book about a one-legged World War II spy and a pair of high-profile documentaries about, respectively, Paralympic athletes and the impact of limb loss on a wounded veteran and his family.
One of the biggest drivers of conversation about limb difference in 2020 was The Witches, which generated tremendous pushback for its retrograde depiction of a hideous evildoer with gnarled hands. The controversy drew national coverage in outlets such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and it prompted star Anne Hathaway to blast out a full-throated apology to her 20 million social media followers.
We already know of some high-profile projects that are in the works for 2021, and they’ll be a big part of our coverage next year.
Going for the Gold
For a year that brought cancellation of the Paralympics and nearly every major parasports event, 2020 brought a surprisingly steady stream of news about amputee athletes. The year’s biggest story, in our opinion, was the merger of the nation’s two largest parasports networks—both major feeders into Team USA’s talent pipeline—to form Move United. The long-range implications of this marriage vastly transcend athletics, according to Move United director Glenn Merry. “This is a social justice movement that uses sport as a lever to change the way people with disabilities are perceived,” he says. “It’s about challenging stereotypes and challenging the outside world to understand who we are.”
The other major parasports news of 2020 was the opening of the US Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs. As we explained both on the website and in the September/October issue of the magazine, amputee competitors have a sky-high profile in this nationally recognized facility. John Register, a silver medalist in the long jump whose prosthetic leg is displayed in one of the exhibits, believes the museum is bound to open people’s eyes about adaptive athletes’ abilities and alter perceptions about limb loss in general. “People have beliefs about what [amputees] can or cannot do, and that’s based on what they believe they could or could not do if they were in our situation,” he says.
Assuming the Tokyo Paralympics go off as scheduled, 2021 promises to be a historic year for amputees in international competition. We’ll be all over that story.
Until January—peaceful and healthy holidays, happy new year, and best wishes from everyone on the Amplitude staff.