Tuesday, November 9, 2010 arrived with a clear early morning that promised to become a chilly, sunny, and typically autumn day. I zipped my coat, buckled my helmet strap, unlocked my bike, and headed off to work. A few minutes later, a garbage truck crossed a bike lane to make a right turn. I was in that bike lane. The tires of the truck crushed my left leg and caused other internal injuries. An amazing team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my leg to do so.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Confucius.

In July 2011, I set off to walk a thousand miles as an above-knee amputee in my new prosthesis. The journey has held more twists, turns, and detours than I ever imagined.

I reached Mile 1000 on March 30, 2013.

But of course, that wasn't the end.

I'll keep walking!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Future of Awesome

Mile Marker 1550:

Sorry XFINITY, these kids aren't watching TV.

They aren't spending their Saturday mornings on the couch streaming movies or pressing buttons to control the world from their smart phones.  Not this Saturday, anyway.

Instead they're rising early.  Filling up a classroom at Temple University.  Tinkering with dominoes and spools, straws and colored cord.  Sorting through mismatched pieces that look more like remnants of my brother's closet than like anything high-tech.

Over the next few weeks, these high school students will use their hands and minds to build a ROBOTIC ARM.

Awesome.

So what am I doing here?  Remember, I'm the girl who's stymied by jigsaw puzzles.  I don't attempt to assemble IKEA furniture.  I'm even terrible at Legos!

But today -- to these budding scientists -- I'm the human side of robotics.

I tell them the story of my own journey:  a bicycle ride that abruptly changed direction.  I tell them how I found myself immersed, unwillingly, in this world they find so fascinating.

I tell them how fortunate I've been to have access to experts in the field.  I explain the amazing technology that allows me to walk, bike, skate, and rock climb.  The tools that help me navigate sidewalks and stairs.   The mechanical and computerized components that move me forward every day.

I tell them that above all this technology is a just little leg that wants to be comfortable.  A 90-pound body that doesn't want to slip on the ice.

They listen and watch.  They ask thought-provoking questions...

Are you a different person now than you were before your injury?

Would it be possible to use prosthetic technology to enable other wheelchair-bound people, non-amputees, to walk again?

And one of my personal favorites...

Wouldn't it be better to have a socket that's breathable?
(Yes, that's genius!  Get started on it right away!!)

I don't have all the answers.  I can only speak from experience.  But I tell them one important lesson I've learned:  It's not a matter of can or can't.  It is simply a matter of HOW.

Luckily this belief already runs deep in their veins.  They're teenagers after all.

College students help run the program.  One tells me she wants to go into prosthestics.  I tell her about Hugh Herr at MIT Media Lab and other graduate programs around the country.  Another tells me how high school programs like this sometimes spur innovative research on a much larger level.  She says one group developed technology that's now used by NASA.

With encouragement and opportunity, these students will join our next generation of engineers, doctors, and prosthestists.  Their knowledge and problem-solving will have a ripple effect on our future.

But there's more.  By inviting me here before the inventing begins, their instructors hope to convey an important message:  Technology must be delivered with compassion.

I agree.  The most promising professionals I've met along my journey never forget the HUMAN TOUCH.

With questions, discussions, and demonstrations, the presentation stretches to more than 2 hours.  By the end I know the kids are itching for a break.  Still, they're told to line up and respectfully shake my hand.

Each one offers a genuine thank you.  Some ask more questions.  A few ask advice on future projects.  Others gather to talk to me afterward.

Robotics and technology are awesome.  These kids are awesome.

In the words of an engineer, I'm an "end user."  But this group understands.  Robot parts aren't a means to an end.

They're really the beginning.


Thanks to Temple Robotics Academy for the warm welcome!  Good luck on your journey of discovery!

3 comments:

  1. Amazing how the technology has come along. From the days of the Pirates who wore a wooden peg to now - where the technology allows one to walk as if they never lost a leg. And it can only keep getting better. Looks like you had a real good time - glad for you!

    ReplyDelete