Clinic helps amputees pursue athletic dreams

May 4, 2012 5:49:01 PM PDT
UCSF hosted a unique workshop Friday for athletes who also happen to be amputees with the aim of shining a light on what's possible for athletes overcoming more than the usual challenges.

The gathering at UCSF's Orthopaedic Institute in Mission Bay was a chance for amputee athletes to learn from one another.

"It's awesome. I've been coming here ever since I lost my leg and even before that so I've always stood by UCSF and they've always stood by me," said 21-year-old Ranjit Steiner.

Steiner lost his leg to bone cancer. He was diagnosed at age 15. He's had a custom-made prosthetic running leg for nine months and is headed to the Paralympics track and field trials next month.

"I can ramp up my training and really get a lot more explosiveness out of the leg and it just allows me to kind of go out every single day and do exactly what I would do if I was an able-bodied athlete," he said.

He couldn't have done it without the support he's gotten from the UCSF Amputee Clinic, where the prostheses are designed for each individual patient. Patients then have to relearn the mechanics of running, biking, boxing and other activities.

"Really nothing is impossible," said Alex Hetherington, a prosthetist at UCSF.

Geoff Turner, 47, is a marathoner and tri-athlete. He lost his leg in a motorcycle accident 22 years ago.

He's fortunate that Icelandic prosthetic maker Ossur give him most of his prostheses, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars each.

The high-tech prostheses feature a carbon fiber blade. "The fibers of the blade contract and expand to provide elasticity and that's where you get the energy return," Turner said.

The clinic hopes athletes like Steiner and Turner might someday inspire insurance companies to expand coverage for these kinds of protheses.


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