ACA: Building Empowered Patients One Conference at a Time

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"You're only as strong as the person next to you."

-Marlon Shirley

Marlon Shirley was referring to building a strong family and peer-support network when he said these words to attendees of the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) 2010 National Conference. But I'm guessing that the two-time Paralympic 100m champion could feel from the energy in the room that those bonds were already being formed.

Held August 26-29 at the Hyatt Regency in Irvine, California, strength of the individual among a community of many was the theme, and the ACA made sure that attendees came away from the conference with the necessary tools to live strong, independent, and active lifestyles and become highly educated self-advocates.

Building Empowered Patients

Physical therapists and patients work together during the Amputee Sport and Performance Clinic.

Among the more than 50 educational seminars covering emotional and physical wellness, prevention, and technology were a number of sessions that encouraged attendees to become strong advocates for high-quality prosthetic care. Jim Hewlett, BOCO, presented "Your Prosthetist and You-A Great Fit for Life," in which he stressed the importance of empowering patients through education and ongoing care. "What does fit for life mean?" he asked rhetorically. "You should be comfortable with your prosthetist, and [he or she] should be able to prove [his or her] competency to you."

Kevin Carroll MS, CP, FAAOP, coached a group of individuals with bilateral amputations in controlled falling and navigating sloped terrain and curbs. As he took participants through his recommended protocol for "getting back on your feet," he stressed the importance of patient/prosthetist communication. "Tell your prosthetist what you want to do and pick the componentry that will work for all those activities," Carroll told participants.

Sneak Peak at the Future

Randy Alley, CP, LP, FAAOP, CEO and chief prosthetist at biodesigns inc., Thousand Oaks, California, gave attendees of his presentation, "A Radical Breakthrough in Upper- and Lower-Limb Socket Design," a sneak peak at the future. With representatives from DEKA Research and Development Corporation, Manchester, New Hampshire, in tow, wearer Carrie Krischke gave a live demonstration of the DEKA arm, which is being developed as part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Revolutionizing Prosthetics program. Krischke said that Alley's High-Fidelity Interface makes the arm more comfortable and easy to wear. "This is the closest non-surgical option to osseointegration," Alley said about his interface design.

Pain: It Really Is All in Your Head

Several sessions focused on pain management products and strategies, but Roberta Cone, PhD, and David Peterzell, PhD, educated attendees on exactly how pain sensations are communicated to the brain. "Pain is so much more than tissue damage," Peterzell stressed. "Pain impacts a lot of centers in the brain. Just because you feel pain in a particular space doesn't mean that's where the pain is." Responding to the refrain "It's all in your head," Peterzell said, "Well, there's a lot going on in that head."

Letting Loose

Dancing the tango requires physical strength, emotional focus, and a theatrical flair-a challenge for most dancers with two legs. Unilateral amputee, Brenda Maroney wowed the crowd as she danced the tango during the Freedom Innovations-sponsored Fiesta. Demonstrations of various dance styles served as preparation for the following night's ACA Gala Dinner and California Dreamin' Party, where attendees let loose and danced the night away.

Remembrance and Inspiration

Rather than providing his usual light-hearted commentary, ACA Board of Directors member Dave McGill started the closing ceremony on a somber note, asking the audience to join him in honoring the memory of Todd Anderson, CP, FAAOP, who passed away unexpectedly on August 18, 2010. But rather than observing a traditional moment of silence, McGill led the crowd in a round of applause to honor Anderson's life and his many contributions to the amputee community through his commitment to the ACA and its National Conference.

Amputee racecar driver and world land-speed record-holder Mike Roman then gave an inspirational speech in which he recounted his 10-year battle with pain and pain management. Using his own story as a powerful example, Roman said that if you believe in yourself, you can become anything you want to be and do anything you want to do. "Know, believe, become," he said. "Not only does the phoenix rise, but he reinvents himself."

Next year, the ACA will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a conference from June 1-5 at the Westin Crown Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

-Karen Henry