Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Robotic foot holds promise for military, civilian amputees


HOUSTON -- The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have left many young soldiers and marines with injured limbs that had to be amputated. For years, government researchers worked to develop a better prosthetic foot. And it's paid off.

One of the first people in the country to get the new robotic foot is a special forces veteran in Houston.

Randy Tipton is an amputee who is limited by his prosthetic left foot. Now, he is one of only a dozen people in the US to get a robotic foot that is programmed with a cell phone!

The Powerfoot BiOM (pictured) is a bionic foot & leg that replaces the Achilles tendon and calf muscle.

"The other one feels like I'm dragging it along. This one is actually pushing me along, so it works just like my other foot. It's excellent," Tipton said.

This is a robotic foot that for all practical purposes can almost "think." And the funding over a four-year period was by the departments of defense and veterans affairs.

Initially for veterans or those with combat injuries, it will soon be available for everyone. It's sophisticated, but also user-friendly

In minutes, Tipton was programming it himself.

"This foot happens to be a quantum leap from all other feet. It is significantly, significantly different," Dr. Mark Beveniste, a prosthetist with the DeBakey VA, said.

Tipton, who did four tours in Afghanistan and Iraq with the Special Forces, lost his foot back home, when a distracted driver hit his motorcycle. Now he is training to become a prosthetist and help others.

"I understand the challenges probably better than anybody other than other amputees," Tipton said.

Stairs are no longer a problem; he tested it on a hill outside, easily walking up and down it.

"Very cool, it's gonna help a lot of people," Tipton said.

The DeBakey VA Hospital is the fourth place to have the robotic foot, besides Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and two other military hospitals. But the company plans to make it available to civilians beginning in April.