Shock victim eyes future

Rehabilitation: A 9-year-old boy who lost his arm after he was jolted by a downed power line begins a long recovery with the help of his family and friends.

July 23, 2000|By J. Kimball C. Payne | J. Kimball C. Payne,SUN STAFF

Six weeks after a near-fatal jolt from a downed power line cost him his right hand, 9-year-old Isiah Moore has started over at Johns Hopkins Hospital, learning to print his name with his left hand and tossing paper footballs into a bedpan.

In seven operations since the June 11 incident, Isiah's right arm has been removed, and skin has been grafted to his forehead because of the severe burns he suffered, said his grandfather, Stanley Grebos. Relatives - who say Isiah has remained bedridden - add that he remains in good spirits, and still talks about a football career.

Therapists say Isiah's youth should help his rehabilitation, but he faces months and possibly years of therapy. His injury, experts say, demonstrates the complexities of rehabilitation, which can be a lengthy process with no guarantee of success.

When and if he is rehabilitated, Isiah will be one of an estimated 199,000 people in the United States using prosthetic limbs, based on the most recent count by the National Center for Health Statistics, done in 1994.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. investigation into Isiah's accident continues.

Brenda Pettigrew, a BGE spokeswoman, said that because the family has contacted an attorney, she was unable to comment on the investigation. Grebos said the family has retained attorney Barry Norwitz, who had no comment Friday.

One point of contention, Isiah's relatives and neighbors say, is that community residents had repeatedly complained to BGE about downed lines in the neighborhood. They say the problem had been all but ignored before the boy's injury.

Since Isiah was hurt, BGE has shored up lines in the East Baltimore area and vowed to stay on top of the situation. Pettigrew has said that any complaints BGE received would be responded to "the same day."

Because BGE officials suspect that many downed power lines result from power being siphoned illegally, BGE's customer assistance program has combed the neighborhood, informing residents about programs to help families keep their power on.

BGE removed metal rungs from electric poles in the alley after the incident to make climbing the pole and illegally attaching wires more difficult.

Isiah, listed in stable condition in the Johns Hopkins pediatric unit, tripped and fell headfirst into the exposed end of a wire before grabbing it with his right hand. The wire, carrying 4,000 volts, knocked the boy unconscious and stuck to his hand as he lay in the alley behind his house in the 900 block of N. Rose St. His grandfather, who lives in the same block, knocked the wire out of Isiah's hand, received a shock himself, and then resuscitated the boy by pounding on his chest.

Since then, doctors in the Hopkins pediatric unit have worked to save as much of the boy's extremity as possible. Initially removing only the hand, doctors were forced to remove the arm as the extent of the injuries became more apparent. They closed the arm wound and performed a final skin graft. Last Wednesday, the boy was transferred to Kennedy Krieger Institute for outpatient rehabilitation, said Isiah's mother, Vickie Mitchell.

While the hospital cannot discuss the case because of patient confidentiality rules, Isiah's relatives said that therapists at Kennedy Krieger will have to help Isiah learn to walk again because of extensive skin grafts from his buttocks and the back of his left leg.

At Hopkins, therapists have begun to help Isiah use his left hand, family members said. Therapists have also used other activities to stimulate movement in Isiah's left arm and hand. Using crumpled sheets of paper, Isiah has had snowball fights and football practice in his room.

Lorie Theisen, an occupational therapist and certified hand therapist at Curtis National Hand Center at Lutherville, said children tend to heal faster and are "able to transfer the dominance because they are not as set in their ways as adults are."

While writing using a prosthetic is possible, transferring dominance to the left hand likely would be an easier and more probable technique to allow Isiah to write again, Theisen said. However, learning to write effectively with the left hand can take months or even years, Theisen said.

Mitchell said Isiah retained scapular function, the use and control of his shoulder blade, which should allow him to be fitted with a conventional, body-powered, prosthetic limb.

Isiah will have to learn to retract and protract his shoulder blade.

Another prosthetic option is a less widely used myoelectric upper limb device, which contains a motor, requires batteries and extensive maintenance. Doctors and prosthetists connect this motor-powered limb to an active muscle within the upper torso. Isiah would have to learn to use that muscle to operate the motor.

His rehabilitation likely will be extensive, but Isiah will not have to do it alone. He has had the support of his friends and family throughout his hospital stay, which experts say should make his therapy more bearable.

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