A way back to life again

The right prosthesis helps to find the way back to life again

“I had my whole life in front of me but when I got the news, it was like the end for me.” These are the words of Gloria Owusu who, at the age of 20, had to amputate her right leg. After the amputation, several years would follow of finding her way back to life again and learn to live with a prosthesis. It took some time before she realised that a regular socket prosthesis was never the right option for her. Instead, she chose a bone anchored prosthesis – a decision she wishes she had made a lot sooner!

Woman with above-knee prosthesis standing.

A shocking message that turned my life upside down

Imagine a typical twenty-year-old. Loving life, partying, hanging out with friends as often as possible and could not wait to finish high school. That was me before my amputation. I had a very active lifestyle and I loved working out at the gym. I think my friends back then would describe me as the girl who was not afraid to be heard or seen. Then, suddenly, my whole world came tumbling down.

Gloria Owusu was only twenty years old and had just finished high school when she started experiencing pain in her knees. The doctors found a benign tumor, which they removed through surgery. However, the pain did not go away and after further examinations, they found out she had skeletal cancer.

I was devastated when I got my cancer diagnosis. I started getting treatment right away and that was the beginning of a long period of being hospitalized and not knowing if my life could be saved or not. I got chemotherapy during a period of ten months, but unfortunately, the cancer was so aggressive that it did not respond to treatment. The mother tumor was located in my right knee, and since the doctors could not guarantee it would not continue to grow or spread, they recommended amputation just above the knee. We discussed pros and cons and eventually, I decided to go ahead with the amputation. Of course, it was a hard decision to make. How would my life be with only one leg? How would my friends react? And would I still be able to get a boyfriend?

The socket prosthesis gave me wounds, irritations and itchiness

My first prosthesis was a silicone socket. Then, I changed to a vacuum prosthesis instead. However, the vacuum prosthesis did not fit me at all. I got several pressure wounds, and I also suffered from the heat building up in the prosthesis. I have quite sensitive skin so when encapsulating the leg, it became hot and sweaty which lead to wounds, irritations and itchiness. Also, the fitting of the vacuum prosthesis was never quite right as I gained and lost weight during that time. My own reaction towards the prosthesis, as well as the reactions from the people around me, was not that positive, which was hard. For example, I could not take off my shoes myself without having to take the whole prosthesis off. It was quite embarrassing when I visited friends at their homes during winter and had to ask if I could come in with my shoes on. It was hard enough to only have one leg, and since the prosthesis did not work, it became even harder.

A bone anchored prosthesis based on an osseointegrated system

A few years after my amputation I met my current partner and today we have two children. After experiencing problems during a few years with my prosthesis, and as my children grew older, I realised that it became harder and harder for me to keep up with my children in their active life. In order to get a more flexible life where I could be more independent, I started considering changing my prosthesis to a bone anchored prosthesis based on the procedure called “Osseointegrated Prosthesis for the Rehabilitation of Amputees” (OPRA™️). I had heard about a bone anchored prosthesis before but did not feel like I was ready for it then. I felt like it was a big process with two operations and I had concerns regarding how the prosthesis would look like and how long the process would take and so on. But when realizing that I would get rid of the socket and all the problems it had cost me, I understood it was my best option. And I have not regretted that decision since.

Osseointegration is a method for anchoring the prosthesis directly to the bone. In the early 1950s, Swedish Professor Per-Ingvar Brånemark discovered that titanium is not rejected by the body but instead integrates with the surrounding bone tissue. Professor Brånemark named his discovery from the Latin word os – which means bone, and integrate – which means make whole, which can also be expressed as interactive coexistence.

A powerful experience that made me more mobile and independent

The two operations were not as bad as I had thought, and since I only had to wait three months between the first and the second operation, the process was more effective than I had once anticipated. The first time I tested the prosthesis was actually quite powerful. During training with the prosthesis, I was supposed to walk on all four, and I had not been able to do that since the amputation!

Everyone’s reactions towards the new prosthesis were very positive, both regarding the physical appearance but also how my life changed for the better. Aside from getting rid of the socket, which was my biggest problem, I can now wear the prosthesis all day long without having to take it off, which saves me a lot of time. I am more mobile and independent than before, and I am also a lot happier and have a more positive attitude towards my life. I have had the bone anchored prosthesis since May 2016, so I am still learning my new capabilities and limitations and what I can and cannot do. Concerns I had before the operation, that to some extent are still there, are regarding how much weight the prosthesis can handle, as well as concerns about infections where the skin is attached to the abutment. So, I still have things to work on, but I can already say that my situation today is much better than it was before I had the bone anchored prosthesis.

My life has changed for the better and I can do things now that I never thought were possible after my amputation

Now, I can start training at the gym again and try different machines. For example, I can start biking again as my position on the saddle is much better now than it was before. The socket was often in the way and made it quite uncomfortable. Also, I have started the process of taking my driving license. This was not possible with the socket as I could not sit during longer periods of time without putting pressure on the socket, which was very uncomfortable. Now, I can sit for longer periods of time and focus on the traffic instead of the pain in my leg. Another advantage with the new prosthesis is that my trousers are not torn as easily. The socket stuck out a few centimetres from my leg, which stretched out my trousers, causing them to break much easier. Also, I do not have to walk in with my shoes on when I visit my friends anymore. It is the little things that many take for granted that have become so much easier for me. Another example is that I can now shower and get dressed without having to wait for my leg to dry before I can put on the prosthesis. I am also confident that my bone anchored prosthesis will not loosen, which I was afraid the socket would do.

After I got my bone anchored prosthesis, my family and I have been hiking in Norway, which was unthinkable with my previous prosthesis! My life has changed tremendously after getting my new prosthesis. My day-to-day life is much easier now, both regarding my job as a nurse and when I spend time with my family. I stand up safer and I trust my new bone anchored prosthesis much more than I trusted my previous one.

I can absolutely recommend a bone anchored prosthesis – I wish I had gotten it sooner!

I believe my life will get even easier than it is today, and I am very hopeful for the future. I have a high quality of life today, and even if I have bad days I still feel that I make more progress than I have setbacks. To other people that are going through the same things that I once did, I can only say that life does not end just because of an amputation. I thought that myself, but with the right people around you, you will get through it. And, I can definitely recommend getting a bone anchored prosthesis. Today, I know that I waited too long before I got it. I wish I had done it much sooner!