New Arm, Same Spirit
updated 02/23/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 02/23/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST
Still, she is not completely at ease with her new appendage, which is mostly cosmetic (Bethany can only move it by manipulating it with her other hand), and truth be told, it's a little pale compared to her tanned torso. "She calls it haole girl," says her father, Tom Hamilton, using the Hawaiian term for a white person. An artist at the California offices of Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics Inc. will dye it to better match her skin color in the next couple of weeks. The company is also working on a mechanical arm that, controlled by the nerve endings in the 1½-inch stump she calls "Stumpy," will allow Bethany to grab objects and do two-handed activities. Even that prosthesis won't help her surfing, however, and it won't be ready for another month. "What she has now is a go-to-the-movies, wear-a-long-sleeve-shirt-and-not-be-noticed sort of thing," says Tom.
To make her current prosthesis—which was partially paid for by the Hamiltons' health insurance—technicians took a plaster mold of Bethany's right arm last December then spent a month tweaking the design. Bethany has a teenager's reluctance to discuss her feelings about the new arm, but when she first tried it on, "it was an emotional moment," says Hanger clinical specialist Troy Farnsworth. "When someone sees a replication of the arm they just lost, it can be pretty powerful."
Don't expect Bethany, who has been unfailingly upbeat since the attack, to wallow in drama. Since she received the arm on Jan. 24, she has only worn it around the house, once to lunch and once to the church she attends with her family on their home island, Kauai—in other words, she says, "not enough to feel comfortable." So how does it feel? "It's okay," she says, with characteristic nonchalance, shrugging. "But it's kind of sweaty right now."
J.D. Heyman. Johnny Dodd in Kauai