ABCNews.com—April 18, 2013
The patients who lost limbs as a result of the Boston Marathon bombings might benefit from the lessons learned in treating soldier amputees injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nearly 700 people in the United States -- most of them wounded soldiers -- have already been fitted with a prosthetic ankle called the iWalk BiOM. It's considered the first truly "bionic" prosthetic because it is packed with a sophisticated array of computer chips, gyroscopes and a motor. This, according to Dr. Austin Fragomen, an orthopedic surgeon who is a limb salvage and limb deformity correction specialist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, allows it to operate in much the same way as a flesh and blood human ankle.
"It's a huge improvement over older style leg prosthetics, which are essentially hinged springs incapable of sensing subtle shifts in movement," Fragomen said. "It's similar to what's been available for above-the-knee prosthetics, but they've applied a more advanced technology to the ankle."
Fragomen, who also works with the Wounded Warrior Project, said the advantages of the BiOM are most apparent during tasks like climbing up and down hills, which, he noted, is one of the most difficult skills for an amputee.
"The BiOM senses changes in incline and decline and makes adjustments accordingly. You can fine tune the movements from an app on your cell phone in real time until it's right," he said.
It takes six to eight weeks from the time of the first fitting for an amputee to adjust to a new prosthetic, Fragomen said. How quickly people get up and moving depends upon their age and the location of the amputation site, as well other injuries they have sustained. For a double amputee, it may take a bit longer to master the balance and stability that goes with adjusting to life with two prosthetic limbs.
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