Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Prosthetics go high-tech

Prosthetics go high-tech
By Steve Huffman

Salisbury Post

When it comes to working with veterans who have lost limbs in combat, the military has made tremendous strides in recent years.

"We use state-of-the-art prosthetics," said Lyn Kukral, a spokeswoman for Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Walter Reed is one of two military hospitals in the nation that serve as amputee centers for those being fitted with and trained in the use of prosthetics.

The other amputee center is Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

Veterans of any military branch needing to be fitted for prosthetics go through either Walter Reed or Brooke before being returned to their home VA medical centers for further treatment.

The majority of veterans who will ultimately be treated at Salisbury's Hefner VA Medical Center typically undergo initial treatment at Walter Reed following their return from battle in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

After they are fitted for prosthetics and educated in their use — a process that can easily stretch for months — they are then sent home where their rehabilitation usually takes place at their home VA medical center.

Kukral said that at Walter Reed, doctors are using microprocessor-controlled knees featuring hydraulic-pneumatic controls that allow amputees a more natural walk.

The traditional prosthetic leg must be swung forward with each step using the wearer's body weight. The new leg allows amputees a more effortless stride.

The legs don't come cheap, costing between $30,000 and $100,000, complete with microprocessor knee and force-sensing pylon. The pylon is a metal support rod between the knee and the prosthetic foot that reads feedback data 50 times per second and evaluates it to determine the appropriate movement for the computer-aided leg.

The first of these bionic legs — often referred to as "C-legs" by those in the medical profession — was fitted in 2003 at Walter Reed to a soldier wounded in the war on terrorism.

Kukral said the military now strives to allow its veterans who have been wounded in combat to remain on active duty should they choose. That choice option often includes, she said, even those who have lost limbs and been fitted with prosthetics.

Kukral said prosthetics like pneumatic legs have made the option of remaining in the military considerably easier, sometimes making it impossible to tell from an individual's stride that they've even lost a leg.

"The goal is to help the veteran achieve optimal usage and health," Kukral said.

The Army News Service contributed to this story.

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