Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Amputees Learn to Walk by Using High-tech Device

By Josh Premako Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday February 14, 2007

BAKERSFIELD --Like pretty much every child, Norman Furr learned to walk as a toddler.
However, at age 9, he had to learn all over again.

Now 63, the Sand Canyon resident had his left leg amputated above the knee after a car accident when he was 9 years old.

His first prosthetic was carved from willow wood.

On Tuesday morning, Furr joined a small group in Bakersfield to test out the cutting edge in prosthetics.

Loaded with sensors and microprocessors, the C-Leg artificial leg manufactured by Otto Bock Healthcare LLP adjusts itself 50 times per second to changes in walking speed and direction, said company representative Mike Callahan.

"It takes the thinking out of walking," Callahan said.

While in the past, amputees wearing a prosthetic leg had to focus on walking and watching for obstacles, he said the battery-powered C-Leg is of a much more intelligent design that acts and reacts more like a natural limb.

Released about a decade ago, the C-Leg has been available in the U.S. for seven years, and Callahan said there are in excess of 10,000 units in use nationwide.

Depending on one's insurance coverage, Callahan said the price of a C-Leg can hover in the $40,000 range.

Calibrated on a laptop by a certified technician, the C-Leg can be set to two modes. For example, the user can have a walking mode, or switch to a mode more apt for bicycling.

A golfer for four years, Furr was curious if an improved rotation feature of the leg could help improve his game.

After being fitted with a trial model, the retired insurance agent practiced walking back and forth, his hands gripping balance rails. Though the C-Leg is even more advanced than his present prosthetic, his muscles worked against the C-Leg, instead wanting to fall into the habit of his normal hydraulic leg.

Furr did not seem immediately thrilled with the high-tech prosthetic, and Keith Sardo of VIPO's Newhall office said that there is often a greater learning curve with someone who is used to a certain type of prosthetic.

Tuesday's event took place at the Valley Institute of Prosthetics and Orthotics, a stop of Otto Bock's Road Show, a traveling presentation of the C-Leg, which in this case included Furr and three others being fitted for and testing out the leg.

Like Furr, 39-year-old Robert Watson of the San Fernando Valley lost his leg in a car accident.
Art Handy, 59, lost his leg during the Vietnam War.

Born without a tibia bone in her left leg, Katie Walker, 17, has worn a prosthetic throughout her life, and was recently accepted to the California State University system on a golf scholarship.
Also at VIPO on Tuesday was Maya Winfrey, a 28-year-old patient model for Otto Bock.

Her left leg was amputated seven years ago after a car accident, and she said she has been wearing a C-Leg for four years.

"I don't fall as often," she said, and added that she can walk farther with the C-Leg, a plus in pedestrian-oriented New York City, where she is a graduate student.

While there are psychological aspects to deal with when one loses a limb - not to mention having to learn to walk again - it's not impossible, Winfrey said.

"This is just another hurdle to get past," she said. "It doesn't need to affect my life in unmanageable ways."

Indeed, Winfrey said she maintains the active lifestyle she had before the amputation, jogging several times a week and recently learning to ski.

There have always been challenges to having lost a limb, but Furr said he can't even count on one hand the number of times he's been angry about it.

"I have a strong belief in God and his influence on my life," he said, and added that he can look back and see what he was saved from, such as serving - and potentially dying - in Vietnam.

Copyright:The Signal

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