Today I’m talking about Jeff Soelberg, an amputee peer visitor, activist, and founder of the Jeff Giving a Hand Foundation. After losing three of his fingers in an industrial accident, Jeff has become a prominent advocate for amputees and how amputation affects all aspects of a person’s life. “Life happens when you adapt,” according to Jeff, and he believes in the resilience of the human spirit.
On July 6th, 2016, Jeff was in an industrial accident that resulted in the loss of three of his fingers, along with tendon and nerve damage up to his elbow on his dominant hand. He had been shining a pump shaft when his glove got caught and his hand was pulled in to the wrist. Despite his shock, Jeff was able to instruct his coworkers and the on-site nurse on what to do and was soon taken to the hospital for surgery.
Jeff underwent a total of 9 surgeries, 7 of them in the first 9 months. He recalls looking at his hand while waiting several hours in the hospital, knowing that his fingers weren’t there but not registering where they were. He describes the shock response as a sort of tunnel vision, and after leaving the hospital he was forced to relearn everyday functions while also dealing with the physical, emotional, and financial toll of his accident.
Fingers are medically labeled as cosmetic, not essential. Jeff’s responds that anyone with ten fingers can’t tell him what is or isn’t essential. It may only be a finger, but we do so much with our fingers from dawn to dusk. Part of his work has been advocating to insurance agencies in order to increase the availability of prosthetics for amputees, without clients paying thousands of dollars.
Recently, Jeff had the opportunity to go to London and educate a group of doctors on the necessity of finger prosthetics. Despite the advancements in prosthetic technology, the majority of hand surgeons are completely unaware of what prosthetics are available for the people they treat, and therefore won’t even think to prescribe a prosthetic. Jeff asked the group, “Where would you be without your fingers?” Education is a simple but incredibly important part of advocacy for amputees.
The Jeff Giving a Hand Foundation has an emphasis on physical fitness and living life as an amputee. If life has handed you a challenge, it’s an opportunity to step back and figure things out. For those struggling mentally, Jeff advises the basics: just try. Go for a short walk, do something to elevate your heart rate, as sitting at home will only take you to dark places. Looking to the future, Jeff plans to continue doing everything he can to make prosthetics available to everyone who needs them.
When Jeff first lost his fingers, he was unable to look at his hand when the doctor removed the bandage. Months later, he showed the same doctor a video of his most recent deadlift, and the doctor replied, “I always knew you had it in you.” Jeff hopes listeners know that a dark situation can be turned into something better, and encourages them to meet everyone with empathy and acceptance, whether their impairments are physical or invisible.
Listen in to learn more about para-athletes and competitions, types of finger prosthetics, and how Jeff adapted and adjusted to life after his amputation.
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