Recently, NUPOC spoke with Ms. Jane Curry, an Educational Model in Prosthetics, who shared her story. A dynamic, articulate spokesperson for and about persons who live with a physical impairment, her point of view has the potential to help and inspire individuals who are facing an upper limb amputation or other limb loss. While her experience candidly addresses adaptive function and sensitivity about appearance, Ms. Curry lives enthusiastically and proactively. She has lived and worked in Chicago for the past 50 years. Ms. Curry came to NUPOC as an educational model in August 2012. Her shared perspectives and interactions with NUPOC MPO students and Educational Models are making a positive difference in many lives.
NUPOC: What brought you to NUPOC?
Ms. Curry: A lucky break—one of those perfect Kismet moments. It was summer, I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and sitting at a sidewalk café on Southport, when a NUPOC instructor just happened to walk by. She noticed me and, on the spot, decided to approach and try some recruiting. And it worked. That was in 2012—and I still feel like a “newbie.” Fact was, I already had been gearing up to begin proactively discovering the amputee part of me—a little late, but nonetheless. I had started some preliminary reading at the Life Center at RIC and also was doing a few physical exercises to get back in touch with my phantom limb, which always has fascinated me. So I was ready.
NUPOC:What is your background as an amputee?
Ms. Curry: When I was 14, a lump suddenly popped up in my left wrist, and a biopsy reported the tumor benign. But it quickly popped up again. I went from Akron General to the Cleveland Clinic and finally to Mayo in Minnesota, where my arm was amputated above the elbow. The diagnosis: Grade 2 fibrosarcoma. That was 1957. I was fit for a prosthesis at Shamp Artificial Limb (still in Akron but now Shamp Bionics!), and wore my prosthesis through high school and college. Then, on the final day of class, I decided that the prosthetic arm was a burden and I wasn’t going to wear it any longer. So I’ve gone it alone for decades, happily and productively. Only now have I begun to experience what I would call meaningful ill effects of one-armedness: the wear and tear on a right hand that’s done double-duty for almost a lifetime, plus balance issues that can be especially exacerbated in older age by a missing limb. One of my major goals right now is doing and learning everything I can to keep me from falling. I’ve already hit the pavement a few times, and the results are not pleasant.
NUPOC:Are there specific moments of your life that you can point to as especially important to you?
Ms. Curry: Well, I’m fortunate to have had a great go of it so far. My first job was at the Chicago Police Department (CPD), and very little was more exciting in the ’60s than working at the CPD. Plus, I met my husband Harry Blackburn at the CPD—he retired a police commander, a terrific guy. I think my work as communications director for Erikson Institute—17 years!—was very important. I not only learned a good deal about myself but also about the significance of having really good teachers, no matter what you’re trying to master.
Present tense, what I’ve done with my “unretirement” years has not been part of any grand plan—I’m not a planner—but it certainly has been a real trip. I’ve kind of left myself open and find that things just come right down the road. I did plan to volunteer in hospice, and carried through: first at Northwestern's original Palliative Care and Home Hospice Unit—a great unit with great staff; then for Horizon Hospice, where I still make regular bereavement calls. Also, my community has always been a focus for me. I was part of a team that succeeded in landmarking a four-square-block area just north of where I live in Lincoln Park. Then I got very involved in helping to establish a non-profit organization, Lincoln Park Village, which now provides services, programs, and a strong sense of camaraderie and purpose to folks who are aged 50 and older. We have more than 400 members throughout Chicago’s north side. And then along came NUPOC!
NUPOC:Can you highlight why you are a NUPOC educational model?
Ms. Curry: As I mentioned, I’m keen on learning more about the prosthetics-orthotics industry and how its opportunities and services have altered since I became an amputee all those many years ago. From what I see, the entire attitude about living with limb loss has changed dramatically and for the better, particularly for women, who have a much greater issue with body image. One of my joys working with the students always is the final critique, where John Michael, CPO, often invites me to bring in my original prosthesis—yep, still have it—so he can lecture on it to the class. My arm and I truly are ancient history now, and we love demonstrating that.
I think that MPO 2015 student Allie Cerutti put the “Why we’re here” answer in the perfect frame for us educational models, when she spoke at the NUPOC MPO 2015 Closing Ceremony. No words can say it better. “Our patient models have given us many opportunities to empathize, specifically from a clinician’s point of view,” Allie said. “We have been privileged to learn from each model’s unique story and perspective...After all, the patient’s perspective will drive our future clinical decisions and, ultimately, the success or failure of our treatment. I think this lesson on empathy supersedes the many other valuable things we have learned about orthotic and prosthetic management.”