Bionic breakthrough: Kansas amputee to be among nation’s first to receive a mind-controlled bionic arm

Local
Courtesy: Sondra Stieber

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A retired Haysville science teacher, who lost her arm a few years ago, will soon be the first person in the nation to receive a bionic one that she can control with her mind. 

Sondra Stieber’s arm was amputated in June 2018 after microscopic blood clots caused by a broken collarbone, cut off circulation in her left arm. 

She said through countless appointments and research, it has been a long time coming making this St. Patrick’s Day a special one for her. 

“I am just trying to breathe and take it all in,” said Stieber. “I have waited about three years to get one of the world’s first bionic arm that is operated purely by my thoughts.”

Courtesy: Sondra Stieber

A year and a half ago, Stieber met with a doctor in New York and learned she is a candidate for a new prosthetic.

What makes it different from other prosthetics is it uses the nerves in her arm to move the hand in different directions. 

It did not come easy. Stieber’s insurance would not pay for the arm. That’s when Sondra reached out to friend and amputee, Julie Dombo, who lobbied for changes to allow for better prosthetics and expanded coverage. 

Courtesy: Sondra Stieber

It was a success, but the challenges continued. 

“We had some insurance hiccups, and it looked like it wasn’t going to happen at all, not even in October of 2021, but we had some donors step forward and donate the last $50,000,” said Stieber. “It’s a huge expense and lots of people have donated services in different parts and pieces.”

After surgically interesting a rod into her bone and several months of healing and physical therapy, the doctor from New York gave her the clearance to get the arm. 

Sondra Stieber, her husband Mark Stieber, and an occupational therapist with Ascension Via Christi will spend a week learning how the arm works. 

“It’s just a relief to know that, you know, she’s getting her arm back, she’ll be able to do so much more,” said Mark Stieber “They want me to help maintain it, and there’s a lot of things like keeping batteries up to charge so she can use it and understand any other malfunction might have.”

Courtesy: Ascension Via Christi

Mark is a calibration specialist for an industrial equipment supplier. He said he is excited because adjusting the arms pattern recognition software is similar to what he does at work.

Leann Bath is one of three Ascension Via Christi rehabilitation therapists who have worked with Stieber for the past three years. Bath helps build Stieber’s strength and prepares her to be able to use the three-pound arm. 

“She’s allowed me to come along and experience this with her and because it is so new out there,” said Bath. “It’s a little nervous, you know, being the first one out there to really do this, but, yeah, but overall, I’m just very excited that she’s taking us along with this journey.”

Friends, family, and staff at Ascension Via Christi were at the airport with posters and hats to celebrate Stieber’s send-off.

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