Designing prosthetics for veterans

Advancements in medical technology have meant fewer deaths and more solutions for debilitating injuries in the military. Learn how the orthotics and prosthetics lab at Saint Petersburg College in Florida is working with veterans to provide mobility in ways not thought possible just a few years ago.


Advancements in medical technology have meant fewer deaths and more solutions for debilitating injuries in the military.

Learn how the orthotics and prosthetics lab at St. Petersburg College in Florida is working with veterans to provide mobility in ways not thought possible just a few years ago.

These veterans are up for a challenge.

They're climbing the ice floe of a glacier near Mt. Denali in Alaska.

This is all part of the Combat Wounded Veterans Challenge, an organization based out of Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Our overall mission is to improve the lives of wounded and injured veterans and their families.

The challenges are going to be physically demanding, whether you're an amputee or not.

They're going to be in a lot of cases mentally challenging.

The requirements to climb a mountain, stay on a glacier trek for two weeks.

We'll take anywhere from six to 12 veterans on any one of these excursions.

So they get that team environment they left in the military.

The challenge is planned with a greater goal in mind.

First we look at our research objectives.

And then we look at the type of expedition that's going to support those research objectives.

For prosthetics, that kind of was the genesis of the first area the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge started.

We'll take a research prosthetist.

So they're in the field right there, doing the trek, doing the climb with the veterans.

And along the way, they're taking readings and measurements.

Many of the researchers are students at the orthotics and prosthetics program at St. Petersburg College.

Here they're under the guidance of Arlene Gillis, the program's director.

The technology in prosthetics has just evolved over the last 30 years.

We've gone from a regular joint, hydraulics, and now we're up to microprocessors.

It's amazing to see how the technology has improved the patient health care.

To train our students we actually have patient models come in.

They'll see a patient, take the history and measurements, create a cast and a mold.

At that point they start their fabrication.

They'll modify the plaster to make sure that they fit the patient properly.

They double-check the measurements.

They build up on areas they want to have relief, and they'll shave down on areas that they want pressure.

Once it's smooth, they take it to the thermal forming room and pull the check model.

Laboratory manager Dale Peterson works closely with the students to ensure the highest quality prosthetic.

A device that we call the diagnostic socket or a test socket is created.

It's made with a plastic material.

When the patient comes back for a fitting, the students can do an evaluation with it and see through the clear socket just how well that socket is fitting.

Patient models like veteran Richard Cicero are a critical part of the students' training.

He lives a very active lifestyle.

He uses a high-tech prosthesis complete with microprocessors.

This knee is called a genium.

And it was truly referred to as the first bionic prosthetic device.

It knows that if you move a certain way, the knee should not flex.

However if you move other ways, the knee should not only flex but help you to get up.

It gives you the ability to not only walk downhill without tripping and falling, but also to walk uphill.

And stabilize you and help propel you up the hill.

The greatest value of the use of the technology that I have is to bring it to my fellow combat injured service members.

Those who are questioning whether or not they're going to be able to live a normal life.

I'm here to tell you, you not only can live a normal life, but you can thrive and you can do anything you want to do.

Fellow veteran David Caras lost his leg in an accident.

It's a hydraulic knee.

There's no electronics at all.

It does not require any charging or programming.

David's hydraulic knee is not as nimble as Richard's bionic one.

He has difficulty going down steps in a normal way.

However, the cost is dramatically less.

And his system is waterproof.

This has proven to be beneficial as a veteran who has participated in the Combat Wounded Veterans Challenge.

One of the adventures I've been on was mountaineering in Alaska.

I was there for two weeks.

Ten days of that was on a glacier.

Another adventure I went on was a diving challenge.

That was down in Key West, Florida.

They looked at the function of our knees, they checked the vacuum, the suction seal, how our legs stay inside the socket at different depths, as well as how fast we could move by using our legs.

At the Key West challenge, veterans are paired with young divers to work as a team.

And so we pair them up at the laboratories who does the coral restoration and give them a mission.

Their mission is to plant coral in hopes of one day having a new reef.

Since 9/11, about 1,700 members of the military have had an amputation.

However, nationally over 180,000 amputations occur each year.

So we look at our research where we take six to 12 vets, but through that research we're hopefully going to affect tens of thousands of people that have -- are using prosthetics.

Combat Wounded Veterans Challenge also sponsored a symposium to showcase new technologies on the horizon.

Dr. Ranu Jung from Florida International University in Miami shared her research on the neural-enabled prosthetic hand system.

The whole project is to restore lost sensation to an upper extremity amputation, to give them the sense of touch and give them the sense of hand opening or closing.

The way the system works is you have the prosthetic hand.

You put sensors in them for hand opening or closing or for grip force or how hard you grip something.

This information then is to be conveyed back to the person.

The device is under FDA review.

And testing with humans is slated for 2016.

Imagine if you were trying to, you know, put up your hair and tie up a ponytail, or you were trying to button a shirt.

If you have no sensation, then it's a very difficult task.

This is restoring all of that to the person.

Prosthetics has become an industry with tremendous capabilities and a limitless future.

This industry is really just getting started.

It's going to explode in the next few years as we bring technologies in from different areas.

For the wounded veteran, the challenge is to keep on fighting.

Get yourself out there again.

Pursue the type of activities that maybe you didn't think you could do anymore but now you know you can.

I think that the greatest thing that has come out of my injury is to come to understand what I'm still able to do and be able to bring that to my peers.

If I can make you want to get up and do something, you're going to get up out of that bed, you're gonna get up out of that chair, you're gonna get up out of that house, and you're gonna start doing and enjoying life, and enjoying life is the key to victory.