DIY Prosthesis

Christina Stephens is an occupational therapist who lost her foot in a car accident.

Stephens, who specializes in wheelchair biomechanics (helping new wheelchair users learn to operate a chair so they won’t injure themselves) understood her situation very well. She could either try to save her foot with a low chance of success and an even lower chance of restoring function, or she could amputate the foot. She chose to amputate because using a prosthesis would restore more function than her hopes of a surgical repair.

Christina Stephens Lego legShe took to the web to share her experience when she found a shocking lack of information on getting a prosthesis. She filled the gap herself with her weekly videos on YouTube and Facebook.  She even took the challenge to build her own leg out of Legos!!!

The human spirit isn’t as fragile as the human body. It can be sewn back together with the thread of determination.

While this leg is more recreational than functional, you can check out her video if you want to make your own Lego Leg 😉



Starstruck: Celebrity Pet Edition

Mr. Jon Stewart is the celeb of the day and his celebrity pet is Champ!

Jon Stewart's 3 legged pit bull ChampStewart has rescued 3 pit bulls including Champ, who has only 3 legs. Stewart is a huge dog lover and an advocate for pit bulls. He went so far as to respond to a Sarah Palin comment in 2008 about pit bulls and hockey moms like this:

One is unfairly maligned in spite of evidence that it is no worse than any other dog, and one is an artificial demographic that is no better or worse than any other mom. –Jon Stewart

With the new addition of Champ to his family and his public displays of love and patience towards his disabled dog (who understandably tires easily on walks), Stewart is rectifying yet another “maligned” demographic.

Maybe the handsome duo is out on a walk now! Happy Saturday!

And you think your problems are big…

Today I present (what I presume to be) the biggest prosthetic ever!

Baby Mosha was only 7 months old when she stepped on a landmine, loosing her right front foot. A growing Mosha created a growing problem…an ever growing prosthetic device.

Mosha the elephant amputee with prosthetic leg

Mosha was rescued by Friends of the Asian Elephant hospital in Lampang, Thailand. In 2007, she became the first elephant in the world to use a prosthetic leg!

She can now go back and hit the jungle but look at that face! She looks pretty darn happy with her Friends of the Asian Elephant!

Have a little faith: beating the odds

Faith was born in December of 2002 with only 3 legs. Her mother tried to smother the newborn puppy by laying on top of her.

Faith two legged puppy

Faith was rescued by a young man named Reuben. He and his mother took care of the puppy, but one of her legs was so severely deformed it had to be amputated.

With only two legs left, Faith struggled to learn to move about on her own. Veterinarians advised that she be euthanized because if she continued to drag herself the way she was, she would rub away the skin on her chest and chin.

But her adopted family had other plans. With much encouragement and some peanut buttery incentives, Faith learned to stand on two feet and walk! At first she would hop but then she taught herself to walk like her two-legged family members.

Faith the two legged dog, walking

Faith the two legged dog serves her country

Faith has recently retired from her career of helping, motivating and healing people. She made visits to veterans hospitals to see disabled soldiers. In this way Faith was able to serve her country just like her rescuer Reuben.

Faith the two legged dog all grown upShe is still an inspiration–10 years and going strong and touching lives!!

Starstruck: the Terminator

You got me! Today’s post isn’t about the Governator. It’s about his earthly, reality-based reincarnation. He’s likely to be famous tho — my spidey senses say he’s in the running for Dad Of The Year.

Newly equipped with RoboCop – worthy carbon fiber armory, this man one upped every other father who’s sitting on their porch with a shotgun as their daughter’s date tries to pick her up.

Terminator D

This man — the terminator of relationships perhaps — has some legit gear to give back so much he lost in an accident 6 years prior. His bionic prosthetic arm is capable of mind-boggling amount. He can type, crack eggs, deal cards, tie his shoes and if he so chose to, sit on the porch with his shotgun, he has the trigger finger for that too! 😉

Rock and roll! Terminator bionic arm arm dad rock and roll

Starstruck: Tom Dempsey

If you haven’t heard of Tom Dempsey… Imagine a disability. Pick the one thing that should be the hardest to accomplish for a person with that disability. Watch them become the best in the world at it. Now you’ve heard of Tom Dempsey.

Tom Dempsey kickerTom Dempsey was born without fingers on his right hand or toes on his right foot. Surely this would be discouraging for an aspiring athlete. But it turns out that even with those disadvantages, he not only kicked for the NFL in the 70’s, he tore it up!!

Dempsey is probably most known for his 63-yard game winning field goal in 1970. In the past 42 years, no one has been able to beat this record! (To be fair, a few have matched it).

It seems like every successful disabled athlete out there has to endure criticism that their disability or their equipment gives them unfair advantages over their peers. As is the custom, Dempsey, too, endured this obligatory scrutiny.

Even though ESPN Sport Science found that Dempsey’s modified shoe gave him no advantage and likely a disadvantage, the NFL decided to add the “Tom Dempsey Rule”. It stated: “any shoe that is worn by a player with an artificial limb on his kicking leg must have a kicking surface that conforms to that of a normal kicking shoe”.

But kicking isn’t Dempsey’s true pride and passion. He loved hitting. He’d tackle anyone; he was absolutely fearless. Unfortunately, after 3 confirmed concussions, 66 year old Dempsey is now learning to deal with a new disability: dementia.

In January of this year, Dempsey shared his condition publicly. He met Dr. Amen (I can’t imagine a more trustworthy sounding name for a doctor. Dr. Amen: the answer to your prayers. Yeah, I just came up with that, no biggie 😛 ) who was doing a study on former football players with brain disorders. He described Dempsey’s condition as ‘an emergency’ upon seeing his brain scans. Dempsey has 3 holes in his brain and is now taking steps to slow down it’s progression.

What an inspiration–going after your dreams with brain-clobbering passion!

Read this great article featuring an interview with Dempsey and his wife about his career and his struggle with dementia. 

Out of this world bionics

I remember when I was little and my biggest problem was figuring out what to do for the science fair. I looked for inspiration everywhere. I’m sure today’s kids in my shoes might be inspired to build a time-turner or the TARDIS. That’s the sort of thinking that makes a great scientist, or at least that’s what I’ve concluded from this Technology Tuesday.

rocket motor armRarely does rocket science and medicine cross paths, but this researcher is smack in the intersection! Michael Goldfarb of Vanderbilt University is trying to design a bionic arm that has more power that current options yet stays true to the natural weight of an arm. Other teams try to use batteries and electric motors to achieve this objective. Not Dr. Goldfarb; he opted for a rocket motor. As in, a mini space-shuttle motor.

Goldfarb’s power source is about the size of a pencil and contains a special catalyst that causes hydrogen peroxide to burn. When this compound burns, it produces pure steam. The steam is used to open and close a series of valves. The valves are connected to the spring-loaded joints of the prosthesis by belts made of a special monofilament used in appliance handles and aircraft parts.  —

I don’t know about you, but this guy is starting to sound like Inspector Gadget to me. Clearly, whatever science he’s doing is working because this prototype (as of 2007) could lift 20-25 lbs, which is 3 or 4 times greater than current arms. And the prototype can do it 3 to 4 times faster!

They also threw in a few more feats of engineering by upgrading from the typical two joints (elbow and claw); this model has elbow, wrist, thumb and finger joints. It’s movement closer approximates that of a natural gait. And, the precision with which they make the valves, is so high, that it is beyond our capabilities to measure! (Valve clearances are at 50 millionths of an inch)

I’m guessing Goldfarb has read this book. Maybe it might help inspire another science project!

Think Like A Rocket Scientist book

Dress up your abilities

We make so many choices about our appearance every day from the temporary (like outfits) to the more long term (like hair cut/color) to the more-or-less permanent (like tattoos).

When you lose control of one of those things, you really lose a little bit of your identity. Imagine if someone else chose your outfit, make up, and hair. You could be utterly unrecognizable.

I imagine this loss is one of those overlooked for amputees. Suddenly you lose that choice. Even the simple choice of what color to paint your nails.

The problem with most prosthetics is that they really aren’t unique. They are cookie-cutter solutions that lack individuality. They often deny the wearer even the natural form of their missing limb, so it can be difficult to feel connected.

Bespoke fairing

A fairing to be fit over a prosthetic leg.

Bespoke innovations is changing that. This start up is pretty incredible. They use 3D printing technology to print “accessories” for artificial limbs, called fairings. They scan the remaining limb (or a stand-in for bilateral amputees) and create custom pannels that fit over existing prosthetics to give back the shape the wearer lost. They can do this with a camera and a laptop.

Free floating tattooThis fairing can be customized not only by shape, but by design! The wearer gets to participate in the creative process as it is supposed to reflect their individuality.

You can 3D print tattoos into different materials or laser tattoo a leather panel.

These fairings are not meant to imitate a natural limb but reflect the individual.

Our goal is to be apologetically man made…make it something that someone can’t wait to show the world.

lace fairing leg prosthetic

“We’re just giving form, shape and contours that were hers to begin with.” –Scott Summit

Of the estimated 1.2 million amputees in the United States, many are showing off their limbs–more than ever before. These artificial limbs allow wearers to express their individuality to a degree many cannot attain. And some argue its the fusion of man and machine appeal that has people openly baring some titanium:

The line that has long separated human beings from the machines that assist them is blurring as complex technologies become a visible part of people who depend upon them. Unlike pacemakers and fabricated heart valves that are embedded in the body, these technologies are, so to speak, worn on their users’ sleeves. —NY Times

fairing on artificial leg

When I see this man with his fairings, I see a whole person. The artificial limb ceases to be just a mobility device and starts being part of the person. What I’m curious about is…do these fairings, by restoring the human shape and the connection to the limb, diminish phantom sensations?

3D printed legAccording to Scott Summit’s Ted Talk (below), one person who uses fairings said his soccer team stopped thinking of him as an amputee. Watch to see all their design capabilities and their ultimate goal: to develop this process to print entire legs, not just the fairings to dress up the underlying prosthesis. It’s so, so interesting!

What man’s best friend can do for you

I hope everyone had a lovely Mother’s Day this weekend!

I’m still checking out Italy but it felt like a Motivational Monday sort of day, so in lieu of today’s update I have the most adorable story.

This beautiful puppy, Naki’o, was alone and freezing when he was rescued from an abandoned home. His poor little paws had to be amputated due to the frostbite and he made a full recovery. He was adopted by his loving mommy, Christie (a veterinarian assistant), and ultimately was fitted with four prosthetic limbs.

He is grown up now and is such a happy little guy. Watch this video and see him running and playing and it will melt your heart!

Dog’s are undoubtedly man’s best friend, but this guy is man’s personal inspiration. To see Naki’o living such a happy life after his tragedy…it’s contageous isn’t it? His love of life and his conquering his disability… I challenge you to watch Naki’o playing and not smile. I’ll win every time.

Happy Monday everyone!

You are going to be more independent than you ever were

The victims of the Boston Marathon continue to be in our thoughts. Many survivors must learn how to live with out a piece of themselves: most often, their legs.

In this video, a Marine (bilateral leg amputee, wounded in combat) tells a woman who lost her legs in the explosions: “I’m telling you, with all my heart, you are going to be more independent than you ever were.”

Those words got me thinking.

These elite athletes and their hard core supporters are survivors and proved it long before race day. Now, on their journey to independence, they will learn about the ever improving world of prosthesis. The technology is here now that amputees can accomplish so much more today than they ever could in the past.

snowboarding with XT9

Jarem Frye created the XT9 prosthetic leg that allows above-knee amputees to snowboard! Having created this innovative prosthetic knee, to achieve the previously unimaginable, has earned him the title of ” hero among amputees and prosthetics experts”. This energy-storing knee makes other sports, like wake-boarding, climbing and skateboarding, possible.

wakeboarding with XT9

The inspiration for the XT9 came from Frye himself. He lost his leg when he was 14, to bone cancer, right when he was interested in learning to snowboard. He tried adapted skiing but when he couldn’t use telemark skis with his prosthetic, he decided to make one himself. He’s been perfecting his model until he finally came up with the XT9.

skiing with XT9
Frye began selling these prosthetics in 2006 so sports enthusiasts can keep doing the sports they love!

Frye isn’t the only prosthetic wearer turned designer.

Hugh Herr

My limbs that I wear have 12 computers, 5 sensors and muscle-like actuator systems that able me to move throughout my day. –Hugh Herr

Hugh Herr has a truly remarkable story. I couldn’t do it justice in these few words, but you can read more here. Herr lost his legs in a climbing accident when he was 17, but he was less concerned by his injuries as he was by the volunteer rescuer who died while searching for him. It’s in his honor that Herr dedicates his work to finding better prostheses. In this effort, he pursued a degree from MIT and Harvard and now is director of the Biomechatronics Group at the MIT Media Lab.

Herr designs his own artificial legs for every occasion for optimal functionality. Climbing is his passion so he. of course, needs climbing feet. “My rock climbing feet are the size of baby feet. They’re very, very small and very, very short so I can get the center of my body over my feet on a vertical wall.”

Herr believes that we will soon see the body and prosthetic merge. He envisions titanium shaft will connect with the residual bone in a permanent artificial limb that has electrical connections to the nervous system.

My biological body will degrade in time due to normal, age-related degeneration. But the artificial part of my body improves in time because I can upgrade. … So I predict that when I’m 80 years old, I’ll be able to walk with less energy than is required of a person who has biological legs, I’ll be more stable, and I’ll probably be able to run faster. … The artificial part of my body is, in some sense, immortal.    —Hugh Herr