I get a lot of questions about my legs and I felt like with the post of the story at NY times that I would cover some of the basic of prosthetic legs.
I was really excited to see this new leg made by Otto Bock. I don’t think the general public knows enough about prosthetic legs to really appreciate them.
The C-leg, which is the predecessor to the X2, is the leg I received one year ago (see image). It’s not the newest leg but due to the price of $50,000 each, it took 4 years of petitioning to my insurance before they allowed me to have them. Maybe that is because I have an HMO but in any case it wasn’t as if I walked in asked for the latest and greatest and they said “Sure”, and I said, “I’ll take two.” So the process of getting a prosthesis can be a test of patience but I love these legs.
I stop walking with a cane after only a few month of wearing them because I noticed I didn’t have the problem of tripping and I rarely lost my balance and they walk up and down hills and stairs with relative ease. Truly an amazing advancement in technology. Now I read about these new legs and they are even more amazing.
I know with the recent wars in the middle east we have a lot of veteran losing their limbs. Thankfully I was born without legs so I never had to suffer any trauma and then have to have an artificial limb serve as a replacement. But without being too crass, you are much better off losing a limb now then in the past. These new legs are powered by an actuator motor and have microprocessor in them that regulates the swing of the legs and senses pressure points in the heal and toe which send signals to the knees for bending. The biggest different from the old legs which basically were called lock and release, is that these legs don’t really bend unless you tell them to which prevents the aforementioned tripping and falling I use to deal with regularly. I can’t tell you how amazing this feeling of security has changed how I function with the legs. I use to fear crowds or dancing because if you step on someone foot in the old legs you were almost surely going to fall. With the new legs I get about a 5 second gradual bend that gives me plenty of time to take another step and regain my balance.
The absolutely coolest part of these new smart legs are the ability to program 2 setting into their function that can be activated by bouncing on the toe or with a remote you keep in your pocket. The setting range from activities such as golf stance or dancing to locational settings like hills or stairs. You still need to go and have the Dr program them but it’s still a lot better than not having the choice. I only have mine set for stairs as I don’t feel the need to do anything crazy while wearing them but for very active people this is an amazing feature that gives them the ability to live freely.
The drawback of this knee is that it has a battery that is located inside the leg and requires charging every day or so depending on the users activity level. I usually do this when I’m sleeping but it means I have to bring my chargers with me if I go out of town and be near an outlet at night. This became an issue when I was in a cabin one night back East. I did find a website that has another knee called , The Plié MPC Knee, which has batteries that can be charged outside the leg therefore providing a chance to charge one and use another.
The other drawback is the comfort of the sockets. It’s like wearing a cast on your thigh. There can be padding on the end but generally the sockets are design to distribute the weight in a circumference of the socket not on the “knee”. Many modern sockets use a suction technology that is actually powered by the user taking steps. I don’t like the feeling of suction so I have an old strap system which tends to cause skin irritation on my hips. The part that people may not realize is that my legs fluctuates in volume on a regular basis. I have to maintain nearly the same weight I am when I had the sockets cast to maintain comfort. If I go up a size for an extended period of time I have to get the sockets recast and that takes a few fitting sessions to get it just right. It’s a lot better than it used to be with old technology and old knees but it can still be difficult.
Lately they don’t even recast my leg they do some sort of digital imaging of my socket and reproduce a copy. This ensures they are making a near copy and then can adjust a demo socket by heating and stretching it to my specifications.
When I was a child and a common practice for newly amputeed people is having them wear “training legs” called stubbies. They are simply the cast portion of the leg with a foot and no knee. These help people get a feel for the sockets and remove the danger of falling from a distance. These stubbies are still worn by many to do activities such as mountain climbing and water proof ones for swimming.
I am really excited about the development of the legs. I nearly cried when I saw a video of a man with C-legs riding a bicycle, as I never imagine it would be something I could do.
The ethical challenges of the future will be when technology get as far as cybernetics and how far do people go to rebuild a human body. For me I don’t want to give up my ability to put my legs in the corner of the room and roll on my skateboard or wrestle with my children but some people who suffered limb loss will be looking for the chance to walk and run just as they did before. I can’t say what this will mean. Likely something similar to the last Terminator movie. Will this make them dangerous to other people? I know in Florida they gave me a 15 min x-ray of my limbs while in DC they asked me to go into a private room at the airport for an inspection. I think as technology advances there is a possibility disabled people will face tougher security and possibly humiliating experiences in the name of public safety.
But until them I am very happy with the legs I have and I can’t wait to see what’s next. If you have any questions you can post them here or email me directly.