I am Lydia Gray. If asked to describe myself, I would say unequivocally that I am a hard worker. I am resilient, strong, intelligent and compassionate. I immigrated to the United States as a young girl in hopes of living the American dream. On March 5, 2020, my life changed forever.
I currently work for Rutgers University in the office of Audit and Advisory Services by day, and previously spent nights and weekends dedicating myself to my small business: A snack company making Chin-Chin. Chin-Chin is from my native West Africa. It is a fried bite-sized pastry snack, made from wheat flour. Countless sacrifices were made to achieve the dream of bringing my product to grocery stores and local market shelves.
I had rented a prep kitchen space in Old Bridge, NJ to mass produce the snack. My family and I were preparing for upcoming food exhibitions, at the Jacob Javits Exposition Center in NY. I had researched this event and with encouragement from advisors, I hoped that this would provide an avenue to get my product’s name in mainstream markets with broader distribution.
One evening, my family and I were working, and a piece of machinery malfunctioned. I attempted to troubleshoot the problem and a roll of packaging bags fell on me. This caused the machine’s motor to turn at a fast speed, and my left (dominant) hand was pulled down, and became stuck on the end where the bags are cut off. My hand was severely damaged. My daughter and nephew were present, and immediately called 911. It took over 30 minutes for Paramedics and the Fire Department to release my hand. I recall being in excruciating pain and immediately felt devastated, worried that everything I had worked so hard for could now be taken away.
I was rushed to the emergency room at Jersey Shore University Medical Center where a hand surgery specialist was contacted. Dr. Ajul Shah of The Center for Hand & Upper Extremity Surgery at The Institute for Advanced Reconstruction made all attempts to reconstruct my hand, but due to the amount of damage that was present, an amputation was determined to be necessary.
As Dr. Shah was talking to me, I felt a sudden relief. I recall feeling that something was lifting away from me. The burden of not having a hand was going away. I felt safe with Dr. Shah and his expertise and was open to taking the next steps.
At the time of my amputation, Dr. Shah performed a procedure called Targeted Muscle Reinnervation (TMR). TMR is a novel surgical procedure that involves the transfer of nerves that once controlled the amputated limb to re-innervate (restore function to) remaining muscles. Following surgery, nerves grow back into the new muscles, decreasing and preventing misdirected nerve growth, which can contribute to pain within the residual limb. TMR has the potential to treat pain from neuromas while enabling amputee patients to return to their activities of daily living and improve prosthetic use and tolerance. In addition to pain control, TMR has potential benefits for the function of the upper extremity. The nerves that are usually severed during an amputation are actually transferred to muscles. These muscles, now controlled by the transferred nerves, provide electrical signals that can be picked up by special myoelectric prosthetics for maximal functional use.
My prosthetic team at Prosthetic Innovations was instrumental in mapping and creating a prosthetic for me that met my functional goals and provided comfort for everyday use. I also was most fortunate to meet with Alta Fried, a certified hand therapist who works closely with Dr. Shah. I began working with Dr. Fried following surgery and therapy has been helping me tremendously to learn how to utilize my prosthetic hand.
TMR surgery has enabled me to use a fully functional myoelectric prosthesis which I can open and close naturally using her own muscles.
“Lydia is a story of resilience in the face of adversity, and she has overcome a series of challenges to now have persevered and created a newly functional life for herself,” said Dr. Shah. “We want to share her story in hopes to help others who may be going through something similar.”
Having an amputation and re-adjusting to life with the use of a prosthetic device has certainly not been an easy journey. There are so many physical and psychological challenges that patients must face. A patient’s dedication and determination are just as important as the treatment performed by medical professionals to achieve a successful recovery.
Through this ordeal I am most thankful for a supportive family and my faith that guided me through very difficult days and continues to light a path for my new efforts.
Although I am still adjusting to my "new normal" facing each day and new challenges, I am hopeful for the future and eager to start working towards my dreams again, but this time a different dream. I am passionate about raising awareness for amputees and other trauma victims. I have remained steadfast that my accident was NOT going to define who I was.
This is the reason for starting the Lydia Amputees Foundation to Reach One Help One. This is for those who are not opportune to have the TMR procedure performed. Many still suffering in a dark place with amputation or other disabilities.
Your compassion and financial support is always needed and greatly appreciated.