Ulf Karlsson is a recipient of the e-OPRA™ Implant System, one of the most integrated prosthetic systems in the world.
UNSATISFACTORY EXPERIENCE WITH PROSTHETIC SOCKETS
Ulf lost his right arm in an accident in 1997. As a sailor, he was performing routine maintenance on the ventilation fan of a cargo ship. Suddenly, the fan activated without warning, and the fan blades severely damaged Ulf’s right arm. Thanks to the first-aid knowledge that Ulf acquired during his military service as an airport firefighter, he was able to stay calm and stop bleeding with a piece of cloth. He then returned to the cabin to ask other crew members for help and instructed them to bandage the wound while waiting for the rescue helicopter to take him to the hospital. However, after medical examination, Ulf’s right arm had no possibility of healing; amputation was the only option.
The accident was the shock of Ulf’s life. “It was like everything is upside-down,” he said. The disappointing socket prosthesis also caused Ulf great inconvenience. First, the socket prosthesis took a long time to wear. Secondly, the discomfort of it irritated him; the body harness chafed Ulf’s left shoulder, and the socket would retain sweat in summer and become uncomfortably cold in winter. “The socket prosthesis and I have never become friends.” For Ulf, his socket prosthesis served only a cosmetic purpose, and four years after the accident, he chose not to wear it.
However, Ulf developed symptoms of muscle imbalance after he stopped using the socket prosthesis; the affected side of his body gradually became weaker than the other, and he suffered from chronic lower back pain. Furthermore, Ulf was also gravely affected by phantom limb pain, “I had been suffering phantom pain daily, basically hourly, since the accident.” He continued, “The average pain level I experienced was five (0-10 Pain Scale), and it increased to eight in the night.”
A LIFE-CHANGING DECISION
Ulf learned about the e-OPRA™ Implant System through Magnus Niska’s story in the news. At the time, Ulf did not know whether he had the opportunity to become an e-OPRA™ Implant System recipient, but this technology left a deep impression on him. In 2014, Ulf gained insight into the system from a physical therapist who helps amputees rehabilitate with the OPRA™ Implant System. He was at a low point in his life due to chronic pain and believed that the bone-anchored prosthesis could be a turnaround, so he went to Sahlgrenska University Hospital for a preoperative evaluation.
I can use (the prosthesis) almost without thinking as if it is part of my body. I can do most of the things I want to do. It has added so much value to my life.
The evaluation qualified Ulf for the OPRA™ Implant System. After discussions with family, he underwent the first surgery in 2015 for the OPRA™ Implant System as a solution for his socket problems. Soon after, he upgraded it to the e-OPRA™ Implant System in 2017. The e-OPRA™ Implant System applies implanted neuromuscular electrodes to allow its users to intuitively control their prosthesis, in other words, the e-OPRA™ Implant System could connect consciousness and the prosthesis. Through the rehabilitation efforts of Ulf and the research team, the bond between him and his prosthesis steadily grew, and a few months later, he was able to operate his robotic prosthetic arm as he pleased. “I can use it almost without thinking as if it is part of my body.” Ulf stated, “I can do most of the things I want to do. It has added so much value to my life.”
A NOTICEABLE TRANSFORMATION IN LIFESTYLE
The e-OPRA™ Implant System has made Ulf’s life easier. Not only does this prosthetic arm have tactile feedback, but it can also be worn in seconds. The symptoms of back pain and phantom limb pain that bothered him for a long time have gradually gone away since he adopted the e-OPRA™ Implant System. In addition, Ulf felt his self-confidence has significantly improved, too; “I didn’t like raising the subject of my accident.” Ulf said, “After receiving my robotic prosthetic arm, I suddenly can share my prosthetic journey with other people, and I can see that people are genuinely curious about me and the system.”
In 2017, Ulf demonstrated the e-OPRA™ Implant System to Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and French President Emmanuel Macron in the Volvo Group, Gothenburg.
People around Ulf also noticed his transformation; “You feel like a whole new person.” One of his colleagues said to him, “It’s like you are shining.” The e-OPRA™ Implant System also opened Ulf’s world to new possibilities; he recently bought a racing bicycle. “I can cycle 50 km in one day,” Ulf said, “and that’s because of the e-OPRA™ Implant System.”
At the end of the interview, we asked Ulf how he would respond when other amputees ask him if he recommends the e-OPRA™Implant System. “Go for it,” Ulf answered without hesitation. “You will be able to do so much more, and not only in the physical aspect of life, the system helps your mental health too. Everything is just great.”