13 April 2011

New developments in prosthetics can make voluntary amputation an increasingly viable option

1st Sgt. Mike Leonard works with his Physical Therapy Technician Spc. Nick Peterson at Walter Reed hospital. Photo: Garrett Hubbard, USA TODAY.

Wounded Soldiers and Marines are making choices about arms and legs that predecessors from earlier wars never had: Advanced prosthetics created to replace limbs lost in battle now are being sought by troops with legs or arms that survived combat, but are not functioning well or are still causing great pain after months or even years of physical therapy.

WASHINGTON — Army 1st Sgt. William “Mike” Leonard found himself mourning the left leg that he had agonized for months about keeping. It was in December, just weeks before he would have doctors cut it off.

“There were a couple of nights,” the company sergeant recalls, “where I sat in the shower and just kind of had some tears about losing it.”

But the bomb blast in Afghanistan that had taken his right leg on March 22, 2010, had so damaged the left one that bones stubbornly resisted mending. Standing on the left limb was excruciating. Leonard could see other amputees at Walter Reed Army Medical Center up and running on new, high-tech prosthetics. “Why am I still in a wheelchair?” he asked himself during months of internal debate.

Doctors amputated Leonard’s remaining leg on Jan. 10. Within weeks, he was standing on gleaming new artificial limbs, balancing on bright green Nike Air Max running shoes, and sweating over a hip exercise machine.

“It’s nice to get up and get going finally,” says Leonard, 40.

This is the first article I remember seeing on this subject, which is more common than you may think. It's worth reading the whole thing.

Update: It's new developments in prosthetics like the latest in bionic legs illustrated below - which require less effort and enable more natural movement on uneven terrain - that can make amputation a viable option.

Package about how patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center are receiving an incredible new prosthetic. Army Sergeant Nathan Jones shows us how it is helping them get up inclines, climb stairs, and get over other rough terrain that once held them up. Includes soundbites from Col. Paul Pasquina – Physician and Staff Sgt. Daniel Lister – Wounded Veteran. Produced by Sgt. Nathan Jones at Soldiers Radio and Television in Arlington, Va.

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