High-Tech Prosthetic Limbs

Before, if your limb was amputated, it was either a wheel chair or crutches for you. That’s not the case anymore. Modern advancements in technology have paved the way for high-tech prosthetic limbs to be available for patients who can no longer walk on their own feet. Below are two inspiring stories of people who are now able to walk, thanks to these medical advancements.

Karl Wideman
Karl Wideman, 53, of Negaunee, Michigan was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2009. It was in February when he received the news that he had osteosarcoma. That was already too much to bear when he was told that it was necessary to amputate his leg at the hip level as part of the treatment. He didn’t know how he would take the news that he would never be able to walk again. “That’s something you’re never prepared to hear”, said Wideman.

Wideman was a psychologist by profession and an active outdoorsman in his leisure time. He helped patients deal with substance abuse while coached for his son’s football team in Marquette County. Obviously, it was a struggle for him to accept that he could no longer be as active after amputation as he was.

After his amputation in May, he started to research for options on prosthetic care in his local vicinity. He found out about Wright & Filippis, which is the country’s largest family-owned prosthetics provider. He talked to Lynn Vanwelsenaer, a certified prosthetist working for this company.

Wideman received great news – a prosthetic was recently developed for patients with limb loss surgery that affected the hip joint. In September, Wideman was fitted into the Helix 3D Hip Joint System from Otto Bock HealthCare. Part of this is the Otto Bock’s C-Leg, which is the world’s first completely computer-controlled artificial leg. It uses microprocessors to control the hydraulic function of the knees 50 times a second.

This allowed him to engage in natural leg movements from getting into a car to reaching down to tie his shoe and so many more. For the first time after the amputation he was able to walk again without crutches. It can also be set on different modes such as biking, golfing, and inline skating, among many others. All these can be accessed using a remote control.

Hugh Herr
Another story is that of Hugh Herr, whose legs were amputated below his knees in 1982 following a climbing accident that had him and a fellow climber stuck in a ravine for several days. After his amputation, he was determined to do something significant to give honor to the rescuer who died trying to save him.

He went to college and worked his way to earn advanced degrees from Harvard and MIT in biophysics and mechanical engineering. After that, he worked to develop better limb prostheses.

Herr said, “I’m titanium, carbon, silicon, a bunch of nuts and bolts”. That’s putting it simply since his limbs actually have 12 computers, five sensors, and actuator systems that allow him to move naturally throughout the day.

Herr doesn’t only wear prosthetic limbs, he also designs them. In fact, he’s the director of the Biomechatronics Group at the MIT Media Lab. He and his team work round the clock to create prosthetic devices that don’t only act like biological limbs but also feel like them.

The artificial legs Herr and his team have designed allow patients with below knee amputations to engage in a wide range of physical activities. When you take a peek into Herr’s closet, you’ll find various pairs of legs. There are legs for running, walking, climbing mountains, and so on. Some are even made to be waterproof for swimming and diving.

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