Wednesday, January 27, 2010

British farmer becomes first paraplegic amputee to walk again

From The Daily Mail in the UK:

A brave farmer who was crushed under a one-ton hay bale has become the first paraplegic amputee in the world to walk again.

Courageous Robert Field amazed medics after taking his first steps after being confined to a wheelchair for more than two years.

The 23-year-old has fulfilled his dream of walking again with the aid of a special brace and a prosthetic leg.

Robert was left paralysed from the waist down when a hay bale fell on him while working on the family farm. He broke his back, fractured his jaw and severed a main artery in his leg.

Surgeons were forced to amputate Robert's left leg below the thigh and steel rods inserted into his back to help stabilise it. Robert said the doctors called it a 'miraculous recovery' after initial fears he would die.

But now Robert, who is back working on the farm, has battled back and is learning to walk again using a leg- brace device called a reciprocating gait orthosis.

The brace has never been used by anyone who has also had a false limb.

The £6,000 device works by supporting Robert's hips and knee while he twists his upper body from side to side to generate momentum to his legs.

Doctors feared the brace would not be successful because the weight difference between his real and prosthetic leg would affect his balance.

But on Robert's first attempt at the Specialist Mobility Rehabilitation Centre, in Preston, Lancashire, he walked 20 yards on his own.

Proud Robert, of Hapton, near Burnley, said: 'I didn't even know that I was going to get the leg, but when I tried it I decided that I wanted to have a go walking.

'I originally had a cosmetic leg but that just got in the way and had no real use as I couldn't stand on it. I talked to the doctors who said they would try to get me a leg I could walk on.'

He added: 'At first I had someone walking in front and behind and held onto parallel bars in case I fell. After a few minutes I was walking on my own and hardly holding on to the bars at all.

Dr Fergus Jepson, a consultant in rehabilitation medicine at the centre, admitted he had been worried the brace would be ineffective but has been amazed with Robert's progress.

He said: 'As far as me and my colleague are aware, he is the first paraplegic amputee to have walked again.

'We have searched all our online journals and contacted colleagues throughout the country and no one has heard of it being possible.'

Gordon Steel, lead orthotist at the centre, said: 'When Dr Jepson first mentioned the idea, I had to admit that I tried to dissuade him.

'There was no history of it being done and I thought it would be very costly for it not to work.'

Robert, who suffered the accident in September 2007, is now back at work. He uses a specially-modified tractor to carry out his duties, spending £3,000 to have his JCB Loadall adapted, enabling him to travel around his family farm.