New ‘bionic arm’ improves Julie’s life

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Sheffield surgeons have restored the use of woman’s arm using prosthetic bone. Catherine Scott reports.

It is nearly 20 years aince Julie Martin seriously injured her arm after falling of her bike.

Since then she has undergoing numerous unsuccessful operations to try to restore movement to her ar,

Now, thanks to experts at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust she has had a custom-made prosthetic bone inserted to replace her damaged one in one of the first p[ertions of its kind in the north of England.

Julie, 67, from Hampshire, fractured her left elbow when she fell off her bike in 1998 and, despite numerous operations, has not been able to use her left arm normally since.

The injury and pain forced her to give up driving and even leave her job as a careers’ advisor.

But state of the art surgery at the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield to replace her humerus with a bespoke prosthesis has now given back left-handed Julie significant function, enabling her to once again perform simple actions such as use a knife and fork and hold a cup of coffee.

Julie has written to the Trust to thank the orthopaedic team for their work.

“I am immensely grateful to the surgeons and the team that looked after me, not only for their skills but also the kindness and respect with which I was treated,” she said.

“I now have so much more movement in my arm and this has made a real difference to my everyday life.

“The level of pain has reduced drastically.”

The initial injury happened when Julie fell off her bike while out for a summer cycle-ride with husband Ray in 1998 and suffered a fracture at the elbow.

“It completely changed my life. I couldn’t lift my arm above waist height and I had to support it with my right arm,” recalls Julie.

“I had to give up driving, which was a big thing for me as I was quite an independent person.

“I was spending a lot of time in hospital and convalescing, and although my employers were very good eventually I had to give up my job, which I had loved.

“It knocked my confidence in getting around on my own without Ray, because I was worried about falling again. Things like getting on the bus worried me.”

Following the accident, Julie under went more than 20 operations including bone and skin-grafts, and was referred to experts in Sheffield in 2006.

A bone graft in 2010 was a success until a fall in the garden damaged the arm again.

The new injury and large number of previous operations meant Julie had only a small amount of bone remaining in her upper arm and, consequently, the latest injury could not be treated with any routine procedure.

This left Julie facing the prospect of being unable to use her arm at all, and therefore the decision was made to totally replace the lost bone in the upper arm with a custom made metal prosthesis, manufactured by a specialist firm in America.

The operation, carried out by consultant shoulder and elbow surgeon Amjid Ali, lasted about seven hours.

Julie said she was delighted with the results so far.

“Now I can use a knife and fork and dress myself,” she said.

“It is not until these abilities are taken away from you that you really appreciate them.

“I was really delighted when I realised I could use a knife and fork normally.”

The operation is only carried out in rare circumstances, with just a few hospitals in the country having the expertise to do it.

It was the first of its kind done in the Sheffield region.

Mr Ali said without it Julie would have had no hope of obtaining any function back in her arm.

“Julie was suffering with the pain, and could not use this arm for simple things that all of us take for granted. We wanted to try and ease the pain and give her back some function in this arm,” he explained.

“Considering the risks involved in undergoing this type of operation, we are very pleased with the results up to now.”