New prosthetic could let amputees stay on job
Staff report
Posted : Wednesday Jul 18, 2007 18:31:56 EDT

New technology may enable amputees from all service branches to return to active duty if they so choose.

Otto Block HealthCare previewed a new prosthetic leg at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. The device, for above-the-knee amputees, includes a microprocessor that controls the knee’s hydraulic functions and responds to the wearer’s actions in real time. The idea is to allow the wearer to engage in various mobile activities with greater stability without having to stop and make timely adjustments.

The prototype shown off Tuesday is an upgrade of Otto Block’s popular C-Leg model. The upgrade project is under a three-year, $1 million contract offered by the Pentagon in 2006.

Improvments include longer battery life, a faster hard drive, more sensors and more memory. All these add up to create smoother transitions, allowing wearers to turn around while walking and walk backward, which are not possible with the C-Leg.

Air Force Lt. Col. Andrew Lourake, a pilot at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., is the first above-the-knee amputee to return to active duty as a pilot. He was fitted with a C-Leg five years ago which he has to reprogram to switch between walking and flying modes.

Lourake said he intends to purchase a new model, which should cost about $30,000, roughly the same as a C-Leg.

“I’m excited. It has a lot of the stuff that I asked for a couple of years ago. It’s huge in functionality and active living,” Lourake said. “I’ll have everything right in the leg, and I’ll never have to touch the computer again.”