Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Snowboarder vs. The Prosthetist

The 2013 Prosthetist & Vascular Surgeon Tour has officially begun.  Last Friday we met our first prosthetist, Russel De Palma at Medical Center Orthotics and Prosthetics in Silver Spring, Maryland.

In the last year or so we've talked to many below and above the knee amputees.  But this was our first encounter with a prosthetist.  Something about an official meeting with a prosthetist made the impending amputation seem more real.

Every amputee makes it a point to tell you how important it is to find an awesome prosthetist.  Even Dr. Jeng made that point.  And rightfully so!  For the rest of my (pretty fabulous) life, my prosthetist will fabricate my legs, custom design suspension systems to hold them onto my residual limb, and make fine tune adjustments to ensure a comfortable fit.

It's really not that much of a stretch to say my prosthetist will be the key to enable me to live my life as I deem fit.

Russel came into the meeting and asked us if we'd be willing to sit through a prepared presentation that covered some of the science behind modern below-the-knee prosthetics.

That's one check mark in The Column of Awesomeness.  My name shows up next to science in the dictionary.

Russel started his presentation with the BiOM prosthetic leg.  It's a leg born out of research and investment into technologies that ensure returning veterans receive the best prosthetic technology available.  The guy that invented it, Dr. Hugh Herr, is himself a double below-the-knee amputee.  When you get a moment, watch his TED Talk video.  Here's a teaser: he created custom prosthetic limbs that put him at over seven and a half feet tall to help him with rock climbing.  
I'm hoping my prosthetic will help me return to throwing down monster slam dunks on the basketball court.
Russel explained to us that he heavily favors vacuum suspension technology.  This is where your residual limb and prosthetic socket are held together with the negative pressure of a vacuum.  The pressure is carefully measured and maintained by your prosthesis with a pump in your ankle joint that activates each time you take a step.  This technology allows for greater surface area of your residual limb to come into contact with the socket, which in turn helps reduce the perceived weight of the leg.  In other words, vacuum technology makes your prosthetic leg feel lighter and more normal.  It also helps reduce problems associated with sweating since the negative pressure apparently prevents your sweat glands from perspiring.
When Russel asked me about my goals once I become an amputee, I went straight to snowboarding (no surprise there).  While I want to return to walking, running, and biking, snowboarding is the ultimate goal.  Russel did a great job making it seem like that goal would be trivial to achieve.
Check mark.
He explained to me that he's recently established a relationship with a local company that manufactures custom prosthetics just for snowboarding and showed us a picture of one of the custom legs they had just made for an above-the-knee amputee snowboarder.  Russel also mentioned that I could join a group of Walter Reed amputees that go snowboarding every winter.
For those of you keeping track at home, that's three check marks in the awesome column.  This was probably the first time since my accident I have been this genuinely excited about what's in store for us this year.
Russel seems like his number one priority is patient advocacy.  We were really impressed with his presentation, knowledge, and amicable personality.  If all prosthetists are like this, our decision is going to be a tough one.
So, the tour is off to a great start!  Next Monday we visit with our first surgeon, Dr. Attinger at Georgetown University Hospital.  Russel mentioned he's a pretty big fan of Dr. Attinger.
Before I end the post, I wanted to update you on an amputee I met on YouTube/Facebook.  She got her amputation in February and just started walking on her new leg!  Here's a video of her taking some of her first steps.  

1 comment:

  1. Three checkmarks in the awesomeness column?! That's fantastic! So excited that you're getting this ball rolling!

    P.S. You really need to decide which angle you're going to rock. I'm afraid the slam-dunking hooper and the guy who shows up in the dictionary next to "science" are NOT one and the same. :) Love to you and Brooke! Miss you guys!