Kate Kehayes hasn’t worn a prosthetic since she was eight. The now 32-year-old was born without her right forearm.
The helpfulness of a prosthetic versus design and the way she wanted to present herself, never really lined up.
“I was a very little girl, with a very heavy mannequin arm-looking device that wasn’t helpful,” she said. That was back in the 90s and technology was not as advanced as it is now, she recalls.
Kate has lived all over the state, but for the past 10 years, she has called Raleigh home. She works at a local community college as a counselor.
Leaning toward prosthetics
“As I got older, I noticed that I’m not balanced,” she said. “I’m not using my right side as much as my left.”
This realization started her journey into learning more about prosthetic devices.
“It’s a huge life-changing decision to begin wearing a prosthetic,” she said. “There was a lot of fear and anxiety that went into the beginning process of it.”
She looked to her primary care physician and social media for answers.
That’s where she met bionic actress Angel Giuffria on Reddit. She referred her to a prosthetic company, but after researching and connecting with the organization on social media, Kate decided to go with Open Bionics.
“They are making prosthetics affordable and accessible for all people,” she said. “That aligns with my personal philosophy.”
Enter Open Bionics
UK-based Open Bionics created the Hero Arm — a lightweight clinically approved 3D-printed bionic arm. Each Hero Arm is custom-built. It’s adjustable, breathable and can lift about 18 pounds. The Hero Arm comes with a set of free covers, but you can also choose Star Wars or Iron Man designs.
According to the organization’s website, the Hero Arm is the world’s first medically certified, 3D printed bionic hand.
How does a Hero Arm work?
Bionic arms work by picking up signals from the user’s muscles. The special sensors in the device detect naturally generated electric signals and convert these movements bionic hand movements. “The hardest part is finding through trial and error what tasks I can use it for,” she said. “Right now, I’m still on everyday things like holding a lip gloss tube or opening a chip bag. I’m discovering new ways to use it all the time.”
— kate (@katemonstra) January 31, 2020
Working with Blue Cross NC to get a prosthetic
Confused, lost, and anxious about the process of getting a prosthetic through health insurance, Kate reached out to Blue Cross NC on social media, a platform she was familiar with, to learn more.
“It was hard especially since I haven’t ever worked with an insurance company for a prosthetic before,” she said. “It was a little bit scary.”
Through her inquiry, the Blue Cross NC social media team was able to connect Kate with a Customer Service professional who assisted her with getting the care she needed and answer questions about timelines, expenses, and appeals.
She said it “ended up being a smoother process than expected.”
“Having health insurance was the only reason I could even think about getting a prosthetic. It’s a huge life-changing decision,” she said. “It gave me peace of mind that I could at least give it a shot.”
Kate encourages others who may think of health insurance as “scary” or “foreign” to use social media or call the customer service line for answers to your questions.
“You will be surprised with what they can do,” she said.
Life-changing Hero Arm
On December 27, 2019, Kate received the Hero Arm. It wasn’t sold in the U.S. until early 2019 and she is one of the first people to use the device in North Carolina.
“The Hero Arm is really neat, and it makes everyone want to talk to you about it,” Kate said. She admits that’s one of the major reasons why she never wore a prosthetic – thinking back to the one she had as a child.
The Hero Arm allows Kate to do everyday things like put on lip gloss, play with her cat, Lou, or open a bottle of water.
“I was able to use it as soon as I put it on,” she said. “It is a great tool for my self-confidence and ability to talk about what it’s like to be different.”
When asked about the value of health insurance, Kate says: “There’s no denying the value of health insurance. When it all works out as planned, you can really take care of yourself, completely change your life, and make things so much easier.”