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Bionic prosthetic helps amputee walk

August 12, 2008 7:10:52 PM PDT
Bionic technology is now helping disabled veterans from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan regain their stride. The device is called the "Power Knee," a prosthetic developed specifically for above-knee amputees.

A young soldier from Livermore is one of the first patient's in Northern California to get it.

Cristian Valle has done a lot of teaching since he returned from Iraq -- teaching his son, and teaching himself.

"It is tough learning to walk all over again," said Valle.

Cristian was on patrol in Iraq, when insurgents tossed an explosive device from a car.

"As they got clear of it, they detonated it, and it took me out," said Valle.

Doctors were forced to amputate his left leg above the knee, robbing him of the ability to use his quad muscles.

"So when he goes to sit, he's got no leverage to ease his body into a chair, so when he goes to site, he slouches into a chair, it just flops," said Louis Givens from VA Medical Center in Palo.

Givens and his team are helping Cristian regain function. He's become one of the first veterans in Northern California to be fitted with a high-tech device, called the power knee.

"When Cristian begins to stand, the appliance helps him also," said Givens.

There is a motor inside the knee which mimics muscle movement, normally provided by the quadriceps.

As he walks, an on-board computer communicates with a laser transmitter strapped to Cristian's opposite leg, to coordinate his new, motorized stride.

It may be one of the most advanced prosthetics in the world. But the learning curve is steep as well.

Technicians use software to fine tune the speed of Cristian's new leg, smoothing out the bumps as he goes.

"Once Crisitan learns to walk with the power knee, he can put on a pair of trousers and you won't know he has a prosthetic limb," said Givens.

And so he walks. It's a commitment Cristian says he made for his son -- even as he was lying in his hospital bed.

"From day one, I didn't let injuries get to me," said Valle. "I want to be there for him, be there as a normal dad, every step of the way."

Steps that grow stronger and more confident week by week.

The power knee is made by a company called Ossur, which also supplied the prosthetics for a disabled sprinter from South Africa who recently made a serious but ultimately unsuccessful bid to qualify for the Olympic Games.

Related links:

Ossur Bionics


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