Lydia's Story

“I would advise anyone to get the TMR surgery to help make use of their prosthetic easier.”

Patient Story - Lydia

An accident changes her life, but she prevails

Lydia emigrated from West Africa to the United States in 1988. Her life journey to that point had been exceptionally challenging. As a child, she was orphaned and early on learned to be self-sufficient. She came to America with the classic hope of making a new life in a new country. 

She began work at Rutgers University working first in dining services, then taking other roles including a night security officer. After studying auditing, she moved up to become an auditing manager. While she loved the work, her entrepreneurial spirit drove her to explore other career paths. Her lifelong interest in food led her to launch a bakery where she made chinchin - cookies from her beloved home country. 

Love of baking leads to dream and pain

Starting the bakery was hard work. She worked all day at the university and then went to her bakery at 5 p.m., baking through the night. In March 2020, she was packaging chinchin with her daughter and nephew in preparation for a food show. When the packaging machine seemed to break down, Lydia tried to fix it, not wanting to lose any time. In an instant, the machine went into overdrive, catching her left hand inside of the hot, sharp device. 

Her nephew tried to release her hand from the machine to no avail, so they called 911. Unfortunately, the paramedics who arrived could not extract her. They called in the fire department, who finally released her hand after more than 30 minutes. It wasn't until she was in the ambulance that she was able to be given medication and sedation for the excruciating pain. 

Waking up from a nightmare

Lydia remembers first waking up. “It was about 5 a.m. and my husband was over my head and said to me, ‘It does not look good. The doctor is going to come and talk to you.’” 

Her surgeon, Dr. Shah of the Plastic Surgery Center, Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore Hospital, explained what her options were, although she says she was so sedated it was hard to process the information. The doctor explained that if they left the hand on, it would have been as good as not having a hand because the machine was hot and burned the nerve and crushed the bone, leaving it lifeless and prone to infection. Her surgeon explained what her options were, although she says she was so sedated it was hard to process the information. 

Because Lydia was left-handed, losing her dominant hand was difficult to process. Eventually, she came to understand that amputation was the only option. 

It was difficult for Lydia to imagine life without her hand, particularly since she had just started her bakery. At the time, she figured it would be impossible to continue her work without it. She wanted a solution that would help her get back to normalcy. Fortunately, her surgeon was familiar with TMR nerve surgery and recommended she undergo the procedure. She did not opt for it at the time of amputation, but pursued it later. 

TMR surgery

TMR was originally developed for advanced prosthetic control, mainly for the upper limb, but also has tremendous post-amputation pain management benefits. Lydia’s sights were set on only getting a prosthetic, but her doctor wanted her to fully understand the benefits of TMR nerve surgery, as well. 

Like most patients who first learn about it, she was a little overwhelmed. Add to this that the accident coincided with the early stages of the COVID shutdown. Lydia had to put all her faith in the medical community that was caring for her. 

For others who experience amputation, she wants them to know their feelings of loss are very real. When she first came home after losing her hand, she dealt with the sense of not being able to do anything. She says, “You come home and realize, I don’t have a hand. The accident has taken away my independence and self-esteem.” 

She credits a local Christian wellness center with helping her navigate the psychological challenges she faced. She couldn't do in-person physical therapy due to the timing of the accident and struggled with the sense of isolation she’d faced as a child. She was alone and embarrassed but had a deep well of resourcefulness she had built as an orphan in West Africa. 

Lydia also credits her strength to her commitment to her 19 year-old daughter. For her daughter’s sake, she was unwilling to stay down. She is in the process of launching a nonprofit foundation to help other amputees. A 5K walk and popcorn sale are planned to raise money and awareness. Giving back to society helps her through the tough times and also enables her to spread the word to the families of amputees. “Often people will lose hope because their families abandoned them and they don't realize the resources out there. I want to show that amputees are human beings. I am trying to change the notion that we are limited,” says Lydia. 

Today Lydia is back at her auditing position, with hopes of eventually returning to pursuing a baking career. 

Advice to other amputees

Lydia advises people with limb loss to find a reputable, experienced doctor who will provide a clear understanding of what's involved in TMR nerve surgery. She says her prosthetic has been wonderful, and it's only possible because of the nerve transfer through the surgery. She also credits Alta Fried, of Atlantic Physical Therapy for helping her through.

“The prosthetic is the first thing I put on in the morning and the last thing I take off when I go to bed. It's become part of me and I enjoy it. I don't know how I would live without it. I've been asked if I feel imbalanced but I don't. I would advise anyone to get the TMR surgery to help make use of their prosthetic easier,” Lydia said. 

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