Tuesday, June 21, 2011

NY amputee first civilian to get hi-tech, military-grade bionic leg

From the NY Daily News:

Lee Majors has nothing on this guy.

A 42-year-old New York amputee beamed as he bounded up a Manhattan sidewalk Wednesday after receiving his final fitting for a bionic left leg.

"It's the closest I've ever felt in 25 years to being able-bodied," crowed Joe Tucker (pictured), who lost his leg above the knee in a motorcycle accident in the Bronx in 1995.

The battery-powered prosthetic, called the Genium, relies on a highly sophisticated sensory system to allow Tucker to easily walk backward, go upstairs, bike and step around obstacles on uneven ground.

"I'm not thinking about my foot being there," said Tucker, who was one of the first civilians fitted with the gizmo-laden device. "I'm just walking. I'm just doing."

Tucker, who was born and raised in the Bronx, said he lost his will to live after the accident on the Sheridan Expressway.

After spending two months at Jacobi Medical Center, he returned home to a painful existence.

"You don't want to go outside. You don't want people to see you," said the married father of four from Putnam Valley. "I didn't have leprosy, but you feel the same way. I'm the freak show in the neighborhood."

Over the years, Tucker has tried six other prosthetic legs - but none of them compare to this one, he said.

The waterproof leg is outfitted with microprocessors and a gyroscope, enabling it to read and react to Tucker's surroundings.

With the click of a button, it can also be switched into modes to enhance Tucker's ability to, say, hold a golf stance or ride a bike.

If he got on a bike in regular mode, "it might think he would fall and lock," said John Rheinstein, of Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics, who fitted Tucker with the leg.

With a $95,000 price tag, Tucker's leg is apparently cheaper than those worn by the "Six Million Dollar Man" in the TV series about a former astronaut with bionic limbs, played by Majors.

The Genium, which was built by German firm Otto Bock in collaboration with the U.S. military, is one of a select group of prosthetic legs capable of adapting to an amputee's surroundings.

"It's definitely an advancement of the current technology, but it's not in a league of its own," said Mike Corcoran, a certified prosthetist who works with injured military veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The benefits of the Genium were brought into sharp relief recently when Tucker for the first time was able to demonstrate a proper batting stance to his 4-year-old son.

"To be able to do that with my kid was incredible," said Tucker. "It was such a good feeling because I was able to do it with him, not watch someone else do it."