The Irish Emigrant newspaper, in partnership with IrishCentral.com and Irish America magazine, will be holding its third annual Irish Heroes of New England awards in Boston on Wednesday, December 3.Katie O'Halloran is being honored with an Irish Heroes of New England award in recognition of her determination in the face of serious physical challenges.
After spending a life without limbs, 23-year-old Katie O'Halloran, is now getting used to her newly fitted Bionic arms.
“It's hard to describe,” says the Irish woman about these life changing prosthetics, “It's great and it is overwhelming.”
Born with a rare condition known as Femur Fibula Ulna Syndrome, Katie, was left without arms and a short deformed right leg. Despite the physical challenges, the Connemara native did not let it stop her becoming an accomplished professional.
In 2013, she graduated from National University of Ireland with a Master’s Degree in Public law 2013 and started working in Galway City as a lawyer.
With her study and her career on track, O’Halloran turned her attentions to turning her dream of becoming more independent into a reality.
Whilst Katie had learnt how to use her left foot to do many of the every day tasks most of us take for granted like eating, putting on her make-up, writing, and using the phone, she was still limited by what she could do. She relied heavily on others for help with the most easiest of tasks like holding her bags, and opening doors. More importantly, the Irishwoman craved to shake someone's hand and to give loved ones a hug.
Having researched her options, Katie learnt of iLimb prosthetics arms which used the most advanced technology to allow the user a greater range of movements. However, they came at a cost of $400,000.
With the support of family and friends from her home town of Chill Chiarain, a fundraising committee was formed to help the lawyer raise the funds needed.
Speaking about that first meeting held in April 2013, Katie recalls “ From the very first committee meeting everyone there thought it would take three years to raise the funds needed.”
However, within months, Katie's “Born to run” fundraising campaign took a life of it's own with drives organized across Ireland, England and here in Massachusetts. The efforts of the community both at home and abroad resulted in all monies needed for Katie's new arms raised within a short 12-months.
Speaking about the fundraising efforts, O'Halloran says
“ Every donation was crucial, no matter how small, in reaching the target amount.”
“No one was expecting[me] to have these arms so soon. I am so incredibly grateful and honored that people all rallied around and we accomplished it in such a short pace of time.”
Katie, flew to America at the end of August to have her state of the art bionic limbs measured and fitted by United Prosthetics in Dorchester, Boston.
The iLimb arms are detachable and can be put on and removed as the user wishes. The arms have suspension systems which they slot into and which has been fitted with sensors to detect nerve and muscle contractions from the brain.
Explaining how her arms work, O'Halloran says “I can't just think open door like everyone else does. The arm does not work like that. I have to think 'What does the arm have to do to do that?' It needs to extend the elbow, open the hand, close the hand, twist the wrist, open the hand and flex the elbow.”
Whilst her dream has become a reality, it has also brought new challenges for the young Irishwoman. Doctors at Spaulding rehabilitation hospital, have warned Katie to expect it to take at least twelve months to get used to wearing the arms and learning how to operate them.
Speaking about her new limbs, she says “I have to adjust to the arms, they have to adjust to me and I have to adjust to life with them too.”
“I also need to get used to the look of wearing them. I lived for 23 years without arms. I have gone socializing, pottered along with my daily without arms. Now, I have to do all that, accept it and come to terms with prosthetics arms.”
Katie knows it will take time but this inspirational young woman knows it will be all worth it, saying
“In the long run, my life will be so much better. I will have the independence I have always craved......and have a life without as many boundaries.”
The awards will be presented at a reception and awards ceremony to be held in downtown Boston. Diaego/Guinness and its “Made of More” campaign will be a main supporter of the event.If you would like to find out more about the event please email [email protected] or call 617-268-8322.