April 15, 2003
Boating accident leads Brandon resident to occupational therapy career
By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service
FLOWOOD, Miss.—Thanks to an iron will and an experienced team of prosthetic technicians at Methodist Rehabilitation Center, Brandy Trebotich is on her way to a career of helping others as an occupational therapist.
The 22-year-old Brandon resident has come a long way since a freakish boating accident claimed her right arm up to the elbow.
While out on the Ross Barnett Reservoir in 2001, Trebotich was just sitting in the boat with friends when she accidentally fell out. That’s when the boat’s tow rope inexplicably flew out with her and became entwined with her arm. When she hit the water, the tow rope tore straight through Trebotich’s arm.
For hours she wouldn’t let rescue crews leave. She was hoping they would find her lost arm. “It really bothered me,” she recalled. “I knew it was out there somewhere, but they just couldn’t find it.”
Trebotich vowed to move on and graduated on-time from Mississippi College with a degree in athletic training. She immediately went to school to become an occupational therapist.
“Being an OT is all about being able to adapt to limitations and having empathy for your patients,” she explains. “I think my injury makes me a better OT than if it hadn’t happened.”
It also gives her special insight into the field of prosthetics.
Specialists at Methodist Rehab's orthotics and prosthetics division in Flowood worked with Trebotich to design a prosthetic arm that would fit with Trebotich’s injured limb and her own personal goals.
In getting a new arm, Trebotich wanted to work with someone who understood how she felt. Brad Kennedy, a certified prosthetist at the Jackson Hospital, was a natural choice for her. Kennedy lost his left leg in a car accident and now walks with a computerized prosthetic leg.
“I knew he’d been through it before and I knew he was listening to me,” Trebotich said. “Brad made a big difference for me.”
Because of the traumatic loss of tissue, Trebotich may not be able to use a myoelectric arm that would use existing muscles to contract and release its hand. Instead, technicians at Methodist Rehab made her an arm that would make use of her remaining right arm, but wouldn’t be awkward or cumbersome, Kennedy said.
“Brandy wanted something that would be cosmetically attractive,” he said. “But it’s also functional to a degree. She can carry things with it and it will give her better balance and help her to walk.”
Her new silicone hand was made from a mold of Trebotich’s left hand. It even has her own fingerprints.
Another special feature of the new arm is that it can tan. “It comes with a liquid you coat the arm in before you go out in the sun and it will tan just like human skin,” Kennedy said. “But when she’s out of the sun, the skin will over the course of a month return to its original color also.”
Fitting a limb that was amputated traumatically like Trebotich’s is different from a surgical amputation, he added. “You just have to be more careful. She has a lot of scar tissue and nerve damage and that affects how comfortable different arms would be. It’s part of why we went with the arm we did.”
As an aspiring occupational therapist, Trebotich says her injury only helps her.
In the first months after her injury, Trebotich was bothered by the difficulty of blow-drying her hair with one arm. Now, the hair-dryer hangs on a peg on the door and she stands under it to dry her hair.
She’s always had that can-do attitude, said Kennedy. “She amazes me. She is one of the toughest and most determined people I’ve ever met.”
Right-handed before her accident, not only has Trebotich had to learn to do things with one arm, but with her non-dominant arm. Now, she writes with her left hand, ties her shoelaces and puts her hair in a ponytail.
“There’s nothing I can’t do,” she says with a smile.
Brad Kennedy, right, a certified prosthetist at Methodist Rehabilitation Center, helps 22-year-old Brandon resident Brandy Trebotich select a color for her new prosthetic arm.