Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tech Tuesday — Bionic technology makes for a good fit

Originally published September 18, 2007
By Pamela Rigaux News-Post Staff
Photo by Skip Lawrence
Gettysburg resident Paul Selmer is a little lighter on his feet, and not because he lost weight.

In fact, the 6 foot, 200 pound pilot has gained a little, but feels lighter after being fitted two months ago with a high-tech prosthetic foot.

Unlike other prostheses, the PROPRIO Foot, by Ossur America and Dynastream Innovations of Canada, is "intelligent" -- it detects where the limb is in space, according to the Bionic Technology by Ossur America website,

That spatial sense is known as "artificial proprioception," hence its name: PROPRIO Foot.

"I have never walked with a smoother gait," Selmer, a 30-year amputee, said. "I don't feel it.
The foot self-adjusts to an incline or decline. I never realized what a difference it made."

The PROPRIO has an on and off switch, he said. "You flip a button to turn on the gyro that's built in it. Same thing in airplanes. It knows which way is up."

Over the last three decades, Selmer was resigned to feeling pressure on his upper leg when he walked. He never imagined it could be different.

The "hip hike," pain, as it is called, is corrected by the PROPRIO's more symmetrical and balanced gait, according to Ossur's website. Bionic technology is a fusion of electronics, mechanics and human physiology.

Selmer's Gettysburg practitioner, Jeffrey Brandt, of Ability Prosthetics & Orthotics Inc., told him about the product. Selmer readily agreed to try it.

"Jeff had a meeting with the manufacturers," Selmer said. "They came out to show what it could do."

The prosthetic cost $20,000, the equivalent of two small aircrafts. Even so, Selmer put down the money.

"That's a good price for a foot," he said.

He plans to ask if insurance will reimburse some of it.

Brandt believes Selmer is the first client in Northern Maryland and Pennsylvania to get a PROPRIO. The foot was released to the public this summer, according to a press release from Ability Prosthetics & Orthotic Inc. Prior to that, it had been used only by veterans.

Selmer might also become the first pilot to use a PROPRIO. He is working on a way to fly with it. The limb he has been using isn't as flexible.

"I haven't experimented to see if the PROPRIO will better work for me," Selmer said. "When you get in a car, you're supposed to turn it off. It extends to the floor."

Hitting an accelerator wouldn't be ideal on land or air, he said.

"We're going to make (the PROPRIO) work; one of those Yankee ingenuity things," Selmer said.
At least one thing is for sure -- Selmer can use the PROPRIO for his daily work as owner of Gettysburg Frame Shop & Gallery, a Civil War art gallery on Chambersburg Street.
Brandt said Selmer has been easy to work with.

"He knows how to describe, very accurately, what he is feeling in his prosthetic socket and at his ankle. The most amazing thing was to see Paul walking up and down hills without leaning forward or backwards to re-distribute his weight and thus keep his balance."

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