Gerry with Carabiner

We share a lot of ideas about adaptive clothing in our article, “Clothing Options for People with an Upper Limb Difference”. Some of that information may also work for people with a bilateral limb difference, but we wanted to know about tips and tricks that are specifically for people with bilateral limb differences. So we spoke with two of our super star patients, Jason Koger and Gerry Kinney (pictured above). Read on for thoughts from these two experienced bilateral amputees:

Both Jason and Gerry started their bilateral limb difference journey by asking others to help adapt their existing clothing. Jason: “I asked a tailor to take the buttons off my pants and sew some Velcro on in their place. I also asked them to add a D ring to the zippers so it would be easier to zip them up. I still use the D rings or a small key ring to zip up my pants.” Or, as you can see at the photo at the top of this article, Gerry uses a small carabiner attached to a zipper. There are also "clear zipper pulls" that can be purchased online if someone prefers a more discreet option.

Gerry asked his mom to help him with sewing. “I asked my mom to adapt some jeans and other pants with dress-slack-type fasteners, the ones you slide together, instead of buttoning them. So she did that to my shorts and pants. And she put magnetic snaps on my shirts so I wouldn’t have to worry about buttoning them.” While adaptive clothing is becoming more available, you may not want to buy a whole new wardrobe in the months after an amputation, so getting your own clothing adapted is a good place to start, when possible.

For Jason, it’s thinking ahead about how dressing is going to go. He’s a planner. He’s also adapted in ways that don’t qualify as “adaptive” clothing. “I buy my pants one size bigger than what I would typically wear so I can have everything buttoned and zipped in advance of pulling them up. So it’s my belt that’s holding up my pants. That’s what I do for my everyday wear.” This is something that Jason (pictured below) has figured out in the years since his accident in 2008.

Jason Zipping

Jason has long been proficient enough with his prosthetic devices to not need adaptive clothing or much help from anyone else, but a lot of the reason for that is because he thinks things out in advance. “I make sure to have my polo shirt buttoned up to where I can get it over my head, but the bottom button is done so I don’t have to deal with them once it’s on.” Gerry travels with a little buttoning tool, called a button hook or button aid, similar to the one below.

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Our patient Chris Buck is not a bilateral amputee, but he does use another tool that's similar to the one pictured above. Watch him discuss it:

There’s another tool that Gerry uses, as seen below. Gerry: "This is a simple L-shaped instrument that an occupational therapist made for me during my recovery. It measures about 14 inches long. When I do not have my prosthetics on I use it a lot to open drawers with handles. When I have my prosthetics on I use it a lot to adjust the collar on my shirt or to help me tuck in a shirt into my pants. It is simple and could be made out of a variety of materials." This tool is similar to a dressing stick — that term can be used to find items on the internet.

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Over the years, Gerry has asked his therapists to create tools for him that he can use in conjunction with his prostheses, or with his residual limb if he’s not wearing a prosthesis. “If you can imagine how a tool might help you, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t exist. Either your therapist has the skills and material to make you what you need, or they can help you figure out how to get it made, if you can just describe what would work for you.”

Just like Jason, Gerry also puts a lot of thought into what comes next, and knows it takes time to plan and execute: “If I’m out at a hotel when I travel, and my wife is not with me, I’ll give myself an extra hour to get ready in the morning.”

Gerry finds that having a dressing tree in his home is helpful. Pictured below, this item can be beneficial for anyone with a limb difference, but especially those with a bilateral difference. We actually receive many inquiries about dressing trees. Gerry had his built by the same capable handyman who came in to renovate his bathroom. “I gave him an idea of what I wanted and he was able to deliver an item that was even better than what I had imagined. My favorite part is that the bars and the hooks are adjustable, so if my needs change (like when I broke my shoulder in early 2023) I can change it.”

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“It took about a year or so,” Gerry recalled when thinking about the timeline after his accident in 2015. “It was around a year before I felt comfortable with my prosthetics and could leave many of those adaptive tools behind.”

Jason: “I tell people all the time, when you first become an amputee, the first goal you should have is to become independent. To figure out how to get dressed on your own, how to go to the bathroom on your own. I tell people, ‘Independence equals a positive mindset,’ and in the months and years after an amputation, that’s one of the hardest things to achieve.” Jason talks the talk and walks the walk:

For a lot of tasks, it’s seeing what can’t be done solo, and then figuring out what tools or practice or extra time is needed to do that task solo. Talk to your prosthetist and therapist, and ask for peer support. There are lots of great ideas that can be learned through the Skills for Life webinars and in YouTube videos. For those who have experienced an amputation, know that life may never return to “normal,” but independence can be achieved.

If you or someone you know would be interested in a complimentary consultation with our clinical team to discuss the holistic prosthetic care that we provide for people with bilateral upper limb differences, please contact us. If you have any comments regarding this article, or for Gerry or Jason, please leave them below.

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