PLYMOUTH, Minn. (WCCO) — January 12, 2010 is a day Christella Monteau will never forget. On her 18th birthday, a time that would normally have been filled with much celebration, the late afternoon turned tragic. Devastation brought on by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake had swallowed Port au Prince in panic, disbelief and death.
Now, miles and months removed from that fateful day that claimed the life of her sister and left her without a right arm, Christella has reason to smile again.
“I’m so happy … I’m excited,” she proclaimed.
She was speaking from the Plymouth manufacturing headquarters of Otto Bock HealthCare. Just 24 hours after landing in the Twin Cities, she was visiting the facility to be fitted with and taught to use a high-tech prosthetic arm.
At a news conference with television cameras and reporters, clinical specialist Byron Backus asks, “Can you make your wrist move Christella? There we go.”
Otto Bock is the world’s leading maker of advanced prosthetic and orthotic devices. The device Christella is receiving is known as the MyoHand VariPlus Speed. It is a myoelectric device that transfers electric impulses from the muscle tissue to microprocessors built into the arm and hand.
“This prosthesis is activated by the muscles that are remaining in her arm. So we’re opening and closing the hand and we’re turning the wrist on this prosthesis,” said Backus.
It works when electrodes placed against the upper arm pick up tiny impulses in her bicep and tricep muscles. By choosing which of those muscles to flex, Christella can send a signal to the arm’s microprocessor, activating wrist and hand movements.
As she demonstrated the new arm to reporters, Christella told her technicians, “I love you guys. You take care of me and I’m so happy to have my hands.”
And overcome with the emotions of regaining what tragedy took away, Christella said, “I can drive, I can do my hair, I can cook, I can wash dishes. Everything I want, I’m so excited!”
Christella said she will spend her 19th birthday and next week’s one-year anniversary of the earthquake in quiet reflection. After another day of tweaking the arm at the Plymouth facility, she’ll go back to Connecticut where she’s staying with relatives.
Christella’s health care providers say she will likely go through three months of occupational therapy to refine her arm’s movements.
WCCO-TV’s Bill Hudson Reports