Ashley Sherman: Myoelectric Prosthesis Opens Up Possibilities
April 2019 Issue
Ashley Sherman is a diver, a horseback rider, and a newlywed; she is also an ambassador for two organizations close to her heart, the Lucky Fin Project and Össur Americas, Foothill Ranch, California. A twin, Sherman was born with an upper-limb difference, but like her sister, she was raised with the belief that she could do anything she set her mind to.
Growing Up With Limb Difference
Sherman's parents expected that she would do the same things that her sister would. "For me, it was really helpful to have a twin because she was the one that always kind of pushed me to do everything that she could do, and that's how my parents raised me as well," she says.
However, elementary and middle school were tough. "I was very shy in middle school especially. In elementary school, kids were mean to me. I say a lot that I was bullied, because I was. I was just an awkward kid who was really tall, thin, and had one arm," Sherman says. "And it was hard to be myself, especially in school because I lived in Florida, where it's hot, and I would consistently wear hoodies and tuck my sleeve into my pocket just so that way no one would see, and no one would know about my limb difference."
In sixth grade she decided to join the dance team, which helped her grow into the confident person she is today.
"I can pinpoint it back to this single day; I showed up to dance and band camp freshman year, and the band director introduced me to all of these kids, maybe like 400 kids all at one time," Sherman says. "It kind of just sunk in…that I'm not going to change for people…and if they don't like me because I have a limb difference, then it shows more of their character than it does mine.
"And so that day it just kind of flipped a switch. It didn't happen right away, but it did help me in that I started wearing more short-sleeve shirts and going out in public became easier. Yes, dance definitely helped with that."
The Journey With Prosthetic Devices
When Sherman was a preschooler her parents tried to get her to use a body-powered prosthesis. But she says she took it off one day and threw it in her toy box and never looked at it again. Until the age of 21, Sherman didn't use any other prosthetic devices. However, not using one resulted in neck, shoulder, and back pain. At one point, after pulling a shoulder muscle lifting a heavy scuba tank, she realized that she should explore prosthetic options.
It was about that time that John Jump, CPO, a family acquaintance who is a clinician at the Daytona Beach, Florida, Restore OPC clinic, mentioned to Sherman's father that there was a lot of new technology in upper-limb prosthetics that he would like to be able to fit a patient with. That's where the next step in Sherman's prosthetic journey began.
Sherman began working with Jump, Andre Bellicini, CPO/L, and Helga Robinette, OTR/L, to determine whether her muscles could be used to operate a myoelectric prosthetic device. Sherman remembers a conversation during her first meeting with Robinette. "Helga came in and said if anyone was going to find my myosites it would be her, and she did."
Jump prepared Sherman for the likelihood that authorization for the device would get denied at least once by insurance. As predicted, that was the outcome of the first request. Sherman took things into her own hands at that point and wrote a letter sharing her story, including the necessary documentation from her physician to no avail. She received another denial stating that the myoelectric prosthesis was not a medical necessity. This news discouraged Sherman but didn't stop her. She decided that she had to talk to the people who were telling her no. She made an appointment for a meeting with representatives of the insurance company.
Sherman says, "I just told them, ‘All of you guys sitting in this room have two hands, and I'm the only one in this room who has one hand. So tell me why it makes sense for all of you to tell me that I cannot have what you have?' Everyone just kind of stared at me, shook their head a little bit, and then a couple of days later my claim was approved.
"Insurance companies just seem to want you to fail and give up," she continues. "But if you know what you need, you can get what you need, and you just have to continue fighting for it."
Bellicini designed and fitted Sherman's socket and Jump accompanied her and her mother to Touch Bionics for occupational therapy and training with the device. Sherman has been wearing an Össur i-Limb Quantum for close to two years now and says that her favorite thing is to be able to easily blow-dry her hair. She previously had to turn to her other side to be able to accomplish the task or use an Eazy Hold tool, which she showed off on her Instagram account during Limb Loss Awareness Month last year.
Having a second hand has allowed her to accomplish basic tasks most people take for granted and has given her even more confidence in who she is. She says that instead of getting questions from people wondering about her limb difference, now they ask questions about her prosthetic device.
Becoming an Ambassador
As an ambassador for the Lucky Fin Project, Sherman is part of a growing group of mentors including model Rebekah Marine and author Trace Wilson, known for his Uniquely Me children's books.
"When I first met a limb different person it was Angel Giuffria, and she answered the door with foundation on her little arm [from using the technique to put on her makeup]," Sherman says. "That's literally the same exact thing that I do. It was just so mind-blowing, and it's just important to us to raise awareness and get more people involved with the Lucky Fin Project."
Sherman was recently part of a Lucky Fin Project meet up in Florida where she met more limb different individuals from the area and shared her story as well as her jovial attitude.
Organizations such as the Lucky Fin Project and individuals like Sherman provide opportunities to educate others, including insurance companies, and share stories of uniqueness that have an underlying message of acceptance and tolerance. Far from the days of hiding her limb loss in long-sleeve hoodies, these days Sherman can be found riding horses on her family's farm, acting as a prosthetics ambassador, or living her new soon-to-be mom life with her husband, James Young, in London.
Linda Calabria is a product marketing manager at Össur Americas, Foothill Ranch, California, focusing on the Touch Solutions product line of bionic products. This article appears as a service to readers; no financial compensation expressed or implied was received in exchange for this article.