A Hook Works Handsome!
Tommy learns to compensate for the arms he never had
By Cordelia Ruffin
Washington Daily News
June 16, 1962
Tommy Willis, 3, is one of 50 enrolled in the amputee program of D.C. General Hospital’s crippled children’s

He is known as a “congenital amputee.”  He was born without arms.

Tommy is a quick boy with bright brown eyes, red hair, and sturdy legs.  He has learned to paint with his toes,
but Rena Graham, his occupational therapist, doesn’t encourage it.

“We’re not pushing feet nowadays,” she said.


Miss Graham got Tommy to show what he can do with his artificial arm and hook.

He picked up a paintbrush with it and brightened a piece of paper.

Miss graham picked Tommy up and squeezed him hard and gave him a lime lollypop.

“This is my last hug, because you’re going on vacation,” she said.

Putting the lollypop into his mouth, Tommy commented that he’d have preferred a purple one.


Tommy is, in the most meaningful way, a normal little boy.  But specialists in this sort of thing say there may be
tough times ahead.

He must learn to be dexterous with the arm, and must not get discouraged.

Dr. Gertrude Bramley, who heads the clinic, said: “If a child is not allowed to feel sorry for himself, he will
actually learn to take pride in the use of the artificial limb.  If he uses his hook well, when he gets to school, the
other children will admire him.”

Tommy’s mother, Mrs. L. F. Willis (sic) leaned over, tucked Tommy’s shirt in, and told him to show how he can
work the “nudge control”, a button he presses with his chin to release the lock at the elbow.

Tommy, with a certain amount of pride, did so.

“The day he learned to do it he was so happy he went around clicking it all day,” Mrs. Willis said.

Keeps in Touch

Mrs. Willis’ husband died of cancer less than a year after Tommy was born. She lives with Tommy and two
other children at 6409 Fifth Avenue, Takoma Park.  This day Tommy was at the clinic to get the hook
mechanism repaired.

Mrs. Willis keeps in touch with other parents who have children with Tommy’s abnormality.

“It’s not a problem when you can work on alone (sic),” she said.

Fortunately, the incidence of these cases in this country is low.  There are 17 clinics like the one at D.C.
General, now four years old.

It is free – the problem is that parents sometimes don’t find out about it and take their child there for an early
start in learning to use artificial limbs.

Cure Remote

As for ending congenital defects like Tommy’s, that apparently is well in the future.

Recently, in Germany and Great Britain, a sleeping pill containing the drug thalidomide was found to be the
cause of an alarming increase in the number of children born with missing arms or legs.

The drug, which has been taken by pregnant women, was quickly taken off the market.  But doctors believe
many more children will be born in these countries this year minus limbs.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration found out in time to keep the pill out of this country.

Photo caption:  Tommy has only one artificial limb.  Doctors hope he’ll learn to use the shriveled, tiny other
arm without mechanical aids.
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