Gemma was born with a congenital limb difference meaning her left arm did not develop below her elbow. Finding traditional prosthetics to be heavy and uncomfortable, she stopped using them from around the age of 15 – until she came across Koalaa!
Gemma, age 27, lives in Buckinghamshire, with her boyfriend and dog Arlo.
Having studied graphic design and marketing, Gemma currently works as a visual content director at accessible fashion brand Liberare, which designs adaptive underwear for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses.
Gemma was born with a congenital limb difference meaning her left arm did not develop below the elbow. We caught up with Gemma to find out more.
What was it like growing up with a limb difference?
I always used to cover up my limb difference and would never show it. I’d be in long sleeved clothes and even in hot weather, you’d find me in knitted jumpers! I just felt very singled out and conscious about it, which was basically my experience up until the point I started my Instagram page.
One thing I used to do was to try and make light of the situation, because so many people would be like ‘What's wrong with you?’, so I’d just say something like ‘I was attacked by a shark’ or whatever!
What’s your experience been with prosthetic arms?
I wore prosthetic arms up until I was about 15. Then I just stopped.
I had pretty standard ones up until then - a robotic one, a split hook one and another that was just no help at all (to put it politely). They were all very uncomfortable and really heavy and sweaty. I’d end up taking them off, then used to forget and leave them places!
They’d make me feel like I was more disabled, if anything, because I was more restricted. And I was so much more conscious when I wore one.
How did you first come across Koalaa?
I started my Instagram profile four years ago and came across Shannon Crossland (@crosslandshannon) pretty early on. Our personal stories are so similar. I could really relate to her and when I saw her posting about Koalaa and a yoga event they were putting on, I got in touch.
The event itself was great. It was the first time since I was, probably, four years old that I've been in a whole room full of limb different people. And it was just so weird - because while everyone's difference is unique, we were so similar in many ways.
When I signed up - and not really being a fan of prosthetics - I didn’t really have any expectations. I've also always been really interested in yoga, but felt like I could never do it because most of it is very arm based. Doing the downward dog is like a bare minimum and I could never do it!
What was your experience of being fit with a Koalaa prosthetic sleeve?
Going through the process of growing up with prosthetics, I was used to going to the place, getting a cast made, hanging around for hours, then having to go back to get it fitted, and then back again to pick it up… so I had thought it was going to be a long process.
When the Koalaa team simply whipped out their tool kit and they were fitting me there and then, I was like wow! It was a completely different situation to what I'm used to, and a relief not to have to go through all that stress. It was just so easy.
What difference has your Koalaa prosthetic made for you?
I’ve been using it in yoga and Pilates classes. They’re usually really awkward as I have to be like, ‘I have one arm, but don't worry, I'm very strong. You don't have to adapt anything for me.’
To help me do the moves, I used to try anything I could find, like a chair, the stairs, the sofa…. and if I was in a class I'd use blocks. But they were so uncomfortable and would wobble, so most of the time I would just not bother going to classes.
The first time I took my Koalaa sleeve along though, it was great! For the first time ever, I was able to do everything and the full range of yoga moves! There's no limit now.
It was also a confidence thing for me. As soon as I started, I was like, this is brilliant, and obviously I’m building up muscle now in my shoulders and stuff, which is going to have a massive impact for my posture too.
What would you say to someone thinking of getting a Koalaa prosthetic?
Just do it!
Koalaa is a functional prosthetic that doesn't try to look like an arm, it's just there to do its job - and that's exactly how it should be.
As someone who hasn't worn a prosthetic in more than ten years, I never thought I’d want to wear one again, because I've got such a negative view of them. But it's so nice to be able to have something that's actually useful rather than just being there as a cover up.
It's light, it’s comfortable, it’s functional and it works - and I think it helps in doing activities but also with wellbeing and self confidence.
It's really weird because you go from wearing a prosthetic to be like everybody else to feeling like everybody else, and that’s a nice feeling.
You can follow Gemma on Instagram @gemmaadby
Interested in our prosthetic tool for yoga?
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