I was conceived in Oakland -- carried cross-country in utero to Long Island where I was born --and I haven't stopped traveling since!"
Her only slightly exaggerated statement was punctuated by a laugh, a merry sound that frequently accompanies a conversation with Kim Doolan. Fortunately for the 33-year-old marketing professional, a self-confessed "travel junkie," her job with Utah prosthetics manufacturer Motion Control keeps her on the go much of the time.
Kim finds movement to be a guiding principle in her energetic life. In addition to her job-from-a-suitcase, Kim enjoys recreational travel and "four-wheeling" through Utah's rugged wilderness. She is also a public advocate in support of licensing orthotic and prosthetic practitioners.
Ironically, movement of the most basic kind has been a hard-won victory for this triple amputee. And the road she has traveled to achieve mobility and dexterity has been long and arduous. Along with adapting to congenital deformities, Kim has experienced multiple hospitalizations and surgeries, two amputations, and the untimely deaths of her mother and an older brother.
I'm So Lucky
Despite an onslaught of physical and emotional trauma, this vibrant young woman peppers her conversation with phrases such as, "I'm so lucky.... I'm fortunate.... and I'm very grateful that....."
Born in April, 1962, Kim was the Doolans' first daughter after the birth of three sons. She was only three when her morn died following a brain aneurysm. Sharing in her loss were her brothers Paul, 13, Michael, 11, and Patrick, 8.
Kim had entered the world with a sound left arm. Her right arm ended above the elbow. Both legs had fully-developed thigh bones and knees, plus several toes attached to her heels. The lower portions of her legs were short and minus both ankles and feet.
"I was fortunate my dad thought prosthetic care was so important," she noted.
A U.S. Navy physician specializing in kidney research, Kim's dad made certain his daughter received the best orthopedic care. She was taken to Michigan as a toddler and fit with a passive arm.
Kim remembers the nights in the hospital as lonely.
"I missed my dad and brothers and didn't understand why I wouldn't see my mother again. But the days were fine, even fun. Getting prostheses was a medical procedure that never hurt, but allowed me to do more once I had them.
"Playing with other kids missing arms and legs was great and it made us all stronger," Kim noted.
As she approached adolescence, hip and knee contractures became more severe and Kim wore heavy, full-leg casts for several years.
"Because of the contractures, I could no longer walk and was using a wheelchair. I had intense pain in my knees and hips, and the doctors were advising surgical amputation of my toes so I could be fit with better prostheses," she explained.
"I had my first amputation surgery at 13— my right toes. My left toes came off at 14," Kim added softly.
"That might not seem like a big deal, but it was a very hard decision. My toes had given me balance and mobility , Even though I went on tiptoes, they were a walking surface. After the surgeries, I was — in effect — a Symes amputee. I was not happy after the second amputation, and it took me a long time to get better."
However, her dad's remarriage in 1971 to Nell, a former nurse in England, brought happiness to Kim and her family.
Family Support Helped
"Dad and Nell have been my strength. They encouraged me to do my best, and they always let me know they'd be there — no matter what," Kim stressed.
As she grew up, Kim had always worn SACH prosthetic feet and used a body-powered arm with a cable-operated elbow and terminal device. College took five and a half years — "with time off for surgeries." In 1987, Kim was graduated from Manhattanville College in New York with majors in communications and biology.
Armed with her degree, Kim put her talents to work as a lab technician for Precision Valve in New York. After several years, she took off for the West Coast, stopping to visit a family friend in Salt Lake City and checking in at Motion Control for some repairs to her elbow mechanism. While there, she did a little shopping. "It was a real eye opener!" Kim exclaimed.
Beyond SACH Feet
"I spent 28 years on SACH feet — never knew any other kind existed. And they also showed me the Utah myoelectric arm. It was wonderful!"
After a few months in California, she returned to Salt Lake for new prosthetic legs. A custom myoelectric arm would follow later. In short order, Kim became an employee, as well as a customer at Motion Control.
"They needed a technician and I needed a job. I've been here ever since," she chuckled.
Working with limb deficient children who were fit with myoelectric arms was also a revelation for the congenital amputee.
"There obviously wasn't this level of technology available to youngsters in the '60s. As a toddler, I was fit with a 'banana prosthesis' —a fixed elbow with a passive hand. At about the age of four, my prosthesis had a working elbow and a hook," Kim explained.
Early Fitting Vital
"Studies have shown that kids learn bi-manual activity between the ages of one and three — so I was already past that stage and used to doing things with one hand. Suddenly, as a technician, I'm working with kids who are getting myoelectrics at 12 months. There's such a difference in their functional skills and development," she emphasized.
These days, Kim wears Flex-Walk energy-storing feet and a Utah Arm with a cable-operated elbow and myoelectric hand. The cable elbow is necessary due to the length of her residual arm. Her former body-powered arm remains a familiar old friend and she still opts for it frequently.
"It's like having a tool box!" she enthused. "You can select the right component for different tasks. A hook gives you a two-point pinch which is great for grasping flat, tiny objects. The myoelectric hand gives you a three-point pinch for round objects, it's much stronger, and the myoelectric hand is far more cosmetic," she said.
Prosthetic arm weight is also important to Kim. At five feet, two inches, she hits the scales at 103 pounds "fully equipped," as she puts it with a laugh. There's a good deal of energy — and even more enthusiasm — packed into that small frame. When she's on the road marketing her company's products, she's an excellent testimonial for prosthetic technology as well as a great example for employing people with physical disabilities.
"Our company focuses more on educating than on selling," Kim stressed. "I go to many professional meetings and continuing education programs."
An Amputee Coalition board member since 1994, Kim serves as liaison between Amputee Coalition and ABC — the American Board for Certification in Orthotics & Prosthetics.
"I feel quite strongly about the value of ABC certification and I'm fully behind the movement for licensure of practitioners," Kim emphasized. "But I also realize some practical problems involved in mandatory licensing," she added diplomatically.
"I believe that consumers — people with disabilities of all kinds — should stress the need for proper professional qualifications. ABC certification is very important to ensure the best possible care! " she noted strongly.
When she isn't doing her best to spread the word about prosthetic excellence and improved technology, Kim likes exploring the attractions of Utah's wilderness areas, hiking, and four-wheeling with friends. In quiet moments, she enjoys "anything with a story" — books, theater, music, writing, plays and such.
One of her fonder wishes is to eliminate any caste system among fellow amputees. In the years she's been involved in rehabilitation, Kim has more than once been told, "You're a congenital. You really don't know what it's like to lose a limb."
"People who are born with limb deficiencies face lifelong adaptations. We continually cope with doing things by whatever means we have. And yes, I do have phantom pain. After all, pain stems from the brain and mine 'remembers' my toes, " she said simply, adding, "But it's also possible for congenital amputees to experience phantom pain whether a body part was ever there or not!"
Whatever life holds for Kim Doolan, she hopes it includes a passport and tickets. So far, she's traveled all over the U.S., plus to England and Hong Kong. Future plans may involve Italy.
But rest assured: anything in which Kim takes part will be accompanied by lots of merriment and lighthearted moments —and, most assuredly — a whirlwind of activity. Motion is what Kim Doolan is all about!