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Limbs for Life

In the summer of 1999, young Michelle Alcorn’s life was forever changed when a bout with meningococcal septic shock resulted in the tragic loss of both hands and feet. Aside from the severe emotional trauma from such a loss, Michelle was unable to move a muscle without suffering excruciating agony during her ordeal with the rare, rapidly spreading bacterial infection. Each day since the teenager was ravaged by the devastating illness she and her family have struggled with the heartbreaking challenges they must face. After emergency treatment and surgery at Memorial Hermann, Michelle moved to TIRR (the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research) in the Texas Medical Center. TIRR is a not-for-profit hospital, which accepted Michelle even though the family had no insurance. Karen Ornsteen, OTR, and Teresa Cramer, MSPT, were Michelle’s therapists at TIRR and worked under the direction of Pediatric Program Director Dr. Kathryn Zidek. Through TIRR’s Amputee Program, Houston Children’s Charity learned of Michelle’s need for artificial hands and feet, immediately “adopting” the teenager.


The work TIRR has done with Michelle includes upper body strengthening and stretching in preparation for activating the upper extremity prosthesis provided by Houston Children’s Charity. Therapists at TIRR worked with her to increase her independence in performing activities of daily living with and without the use of the upper extremity prosthesis - things we all take for granted like dressing, grooming, feeding and writing. At TIRR they trialed different wheelchairs and worked on having Michelle push a wheelchair to allow for increased mobility around her home and in the community. Once her prosthesis arrived, the therapists helped the technicians at Muilenburg Prosthetics with the fitting process, working very hard with her on upper extremity prosthesis training with the body powered myoelectric arms. The support of her family - her dad Rick and mother Tammy, as well as sister Christyl and brothers Richard, Scott and David, has been vital to her achievements in what have been tough years for Michelle. This courageous, determined young lady has the spirit to triumph over her tragedy. Houston Children’s Charity is proud to know Michelle, and to have played even a small part in helping her to reclaim her life.

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