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Cooking Class Helps Patients Move Forward After Loss of Limbs

Billy Parker at Upper Limb Loss Cooking ClassBilly Parker vividly recalls the details of the day his life changed – up to the minute. It was 8:43 a.m. He admits, “I took a shortcut at work.” He ignored a cardinal rule of safety in an industrial setting: lock out and tag out. This is a procedure to ensure dangerous machinery is shut down so maintenance can be safely conducted. Instead of following his instincts and practicing proper protocols, Billy began to work on the machine while it was still running. That shortcut cost him his arms.

Billy says he went through some dark times after the accident, but he has found a new purpose in life. He now travels the country and speaks at safety training classes and conferences. Tonight, he’s attending a cooking class with others who have also lost upper limbs.

MetroHealth in collaboration with Hanger Clinic, a national prosthetics company, has formed an activities group to help patients with upper limb loss learn from and lean on each other. A cooking class at Sur La Table in Woodmere, is the first in a series of activities planned to help patients with upper limb loss learn how to manage everyday tasks like tying shoes, brushing teeth and preparing meals.

Upper limb loss is particularly difficult to overcome, and many patients experience psychological distress. Any degree of upper limb loss diminishes both the motor and sensory function of the remaining extremity. For meal prep, chopping, dicing, stirring and mixing can become very difficult. “A prosthesis is a tool, but not a replacement for what has been lost,” says Kyle J. Chepla, MD, a plastic surgeon who runs Cleveland’s only multidisciplinary Upper Limb Loss Clinic at MetroHealth Brecksville Health and Surgery Center.

Joyce Tyler, an occupational therapist in the Upper Limb Loss Clinic, helps patients re-learn skills using their prosthetics. “Patients who have had an amputation learn best by having an amputee mentor. They can hear it from us, but seeing another amputee who is living a productive, fulfilling life can help them see they can do it, too,” she says. “The more we can put people together who have had an upper limb loss, the better chance we’re giving them of having hope that there’s good quality of life after amputation.”

Ron Matz prepares salad dressing with the help of a food processor.

Ron Matz lost his right hand and left eye in a fireworks accident. After waking from a two-week induced coma at a Canton-area hospital, his doctor told him he didn’t think he was going to make it. His injuries were that bad. Today, Ron has a positive outlook. “What good is it to feel sorry for yourself? I choose to be happy,” he says. The cooking class is teaching him new techniques and introducing him to new tools to make cooking easier. He’s particularly fond of a rounded knife you can rock back and forth to cut vegetables, herbs and even meat. “That will be really good for cutting salami,” he says.

“Prostheses can help people, but it’s hard to face they can’t do things in the same way they used to,” explains Craig Jackman, CPO, FAAOP, Clinical Leader, Upper Limb Pros at Hanger Clinic. “Re-learning how to prepare and cook a meal can go a long way in helping improve our patients’ self-confidence.”

When Igor Spetic’s right hand was crushed in an industrial accident he demanded to be taken to MetroHealth. “EMS was heading to another hospital, but I knew MetroHealth was a trauma hospital,” he says. The ambulance crew agreed to drive the extra three minutes to deliver Igor to MetroHealth. Within two hours of his accident, Igor was in surgery. Though his hand could not be repaired, Igor was delighted by what surgeons could do and his continuing aftercare. 

Using his robotic hand, Igor slices a yellow pepper with the precision of a surgeon.

Derrick Mays lost the fingers on his right hand in an industrial accident. With a few tips from Chef Mark at Sur La Table, he learns to use an ice cream scoop to portion the perfect sized chocolate chip cookies.

Derrick, with fellow classmates Jen Redford on left and Rimma Levitin learn how to use a rocker knife to cut herbs for salad dressing seasoning.

Dr. Chepla (on left) shares the culinary table with Ron Matz.

The activities group is one of many things that make MetroHealth’s Upper Limb Loss Clinic the most comprehensive in Northeast Ohio. Patients who have had an upper limb amputation, anywhere from finger to shoulder, can come to MetroHealth’s clinic and meet with a surgeon, occupational therapist, psychologist, pain management specialist, and prosthetic providers. The clinic sees patients once a month.

“It’s a one-stop shop,” says Dr. Chepla. “We don’t rush patients. It’s a great opportunity to talk and address any issues they’re having with return to work, pain, how their prostheses fit, and how they’re dealing with the emotions that come after someone has lost a limb. We hope by also offering this life activities group and pairing new patients with mentors who have been living with amputation, they can share ideas on how they adapt to activities on a day-to-day basis.”

The evening at Sur La Table started as a training session for patients with upper limb limitations and ended with participants gathered around tables enjoying each other’s company and the meal they prepared together. While the scallops and steak were cooked to perfection, the best thing from this evening’s dinner was the friendships that are just heating up.

For more information on the Upper Limb Loss Clinic and activity group call 216-778-4450.