War injuries improve amputee prosthetics, rehab

April 17, 2013 4:38:43 PM PDT
Many of the injuries from the Boston Marathon bombings have required amputations, but the good news for these patients is medical technology has improved as a result of the number of war injuries sustained over the years.

With the right prosthetics and therapy, those who have lost limbs will be able to do things we didn't even think possible ten years ago.

Four years ago, Second Lieutenant Mark Little lost both legs to a roadside bomb and thought he was going to die.

Now, he is newly married and also walking, running and even playing hockey with a set of prosthetic legs - something that would have been considered impossible just a few years ago.

"I can see a soldier that came off of the battlefield 72 hours [ago] and honestly say to him or her that six months from now, their life is going to look so much better," said General Peter Chiarelli, retired U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff.

It's by no means an easy recovery, but modern technology has changed the playing field and will give more hope to the victims of the Boston Marathon explosions, thanks in part to the painful experience of American troops over 12 years of war.

It's not just trauma care that has gotten better, but also rehab - and the quality of life for amputees is better than ever.

"Computerized controls, such as for an arm, [give amputees] the abilities to do functional tasks ? and then in legs now that we have computerized legs that have abilities to move the joints," said Dr. Mark Huang, an amputee expert with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

"Those individuals can achieve a lot of activity and mobility with the current prosthetic technology out there," Dr. Huang added.

Last year, he showed off an unusual prosthetic leg on an amputee, when his patient Zac Vawter used it to climb all 103 stories of Chicago's Willis Tower. It was the first bionic leg controlled by thoughts.

"I think now there's going to be a lot more you will see in the next 10-20 years. It really will explode in terms of some of the things that are available to people and some of the things we thought were impossible," said Dr. Huang.


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