Health Watch

Wounded warriors amputation alternative

Monday, May 28, 2012

Troops coming home with injured legs are requesting those limbs be cut off instead of saved. Advances in prosthetics are a major reason why. But now a breakthrough that some believe could be the most significant orthopedic advancement to come out of the war on terror, has many wounded warriors reconsidering.

Sophisticated prosthetics allow military amputees to run and return to duty. Those whose limbs are salvaged haven't been so lucky.

"Every time I took a step, it felt like walking on a bed of nails," said Sgt. Ammala "al" Louangketh.

That's why he considered having his leg cut off after it was riddled with bullets in combat.

"It's a very difficult decision," Joseph Robert Hsu, M.D., chief of orthopaedic trauma at SAMMC in San Antonio, said.

Before wounded warriors make that decision, Doctor Joseph Hsu is offering them another option.

"The IDEO has been a real game changer for us," Dr. Hsu said.

"It feels like putting on a new leg," Ssgt. Louangketh said.

It's the return to run program at the center for the intrepid. After surgery and lots of rehab, injured service-members strap into the IDEO. Since his leg was mangled in an IED attack, specialist Caleb Redell has problems walking on his own, but as soon after putting on the IDEO, he can jump.

"It was exciting," Spc. Redell said. "I haven't done anything like that since I got hurt."

Captain Victor Munoz struggles to walk since his legs were crushed by a drunk driver, but with two IDEO he can sprint.

"I wear them as much as I can just because I feel much more normal and pain free," Cpt. Munoz said.

Developer Ryan Blanck says the brace supports the wearer's weight, which can help relievepain. Struts connect the top and bottom, giving wounded warriors back the ability to thrust their bodies forward. Blanck says while some who try IDEO do decide to go through with amputations, he's seen a lot of people change their minds.

"I may not be back to 100%, but I'm going to give 110%," Ssgt. Louangketh said.

There are more than 200 wounded warriors using IDEOS in the return to run program. Doctor Hsu says he could probably have thousands in it, but right now it's not an officially funded program. He tells us efforts are underway to change that and to eventually make it available to civilians.

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