Health

Aspiring fighter pursues MMA with prosthetic leg

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Bay Area man is chasing his dream of competing in mixed martial arts with the help of experts at UCSF. And while he has yet to conquer opponents, he's already beating his disability.

Carlos Gonzalez doesn't lack the ferocious punches of mixed martial arts; nor is he missing the devastating kicks. In fact, about the only thing he is missing, is his right leg.

"It was one of those things where I put myself in a situation where there was a crossfire going on between two rival gangs, and unfortunately, I was hit by one of the strays," said Gonzalez.

Now, five years after that bullet cost him his right leg, the San Jose native is hoping to compete in mixed martial arts. He's training with Jiu Jitsu instructor and professional fighter Kurt Osiander. Gonzalez knows the road is a long one.

"I have to start out kind of small, meaning I have to compete with other amputees, but my main goal after that is to compete with able bodied people," said Gonzalez.

"The thing that we had a problem with in the beginning with the technology of leg was he would get sweaty, naturally because of the sport we're doing, and the socket would slip off and his leg would fall off literally while he was training," said Osiander.

To overcome the obstacle of his artificial leg, Gonzalez turned to Matthew Garibaldi, CPO, a prosthetics engineer at UCSF in San Francisco.

"When you have someone young and athletic, that excites us as prosthetists and we want to try to match their functional desires to the technology that's available," said Garibaldi.

Garibaldi recommended a new technology known as the high-fidelity socket. He says it is designed with a tighter cup that features open slots, which allow soft tissue from a patient's leg to balloon through, ultimately anchoring the cup closer to the bone.

"It gives the soft tissue a place to go. As we compress the tissue and get closer to the bone, and so that provides rotational control, vertical stability," said Garibaldi.

He says the advanced cup, along with computerized fitting systems employed at UCSF are helping athletes push the limits of prosthetic limbs. Back in the gym, Gonzalez and his trainers are seeing a difference.

"It no longer loses traction, and is therefore more solid on him and he can use the appendages really well. The only thing we got to worry about is padding it sufficiently, so he doesn't knock anybody out with it," said Osiander.

And figuring out a safe way to use the leg in competition is one of the hurdles Gonzalez will have to clear. For now though, he trains both with and without the device. Honing his skills for the day, he'll compete in the unforgiving world of mixed martial arts -- and perhaps inspire others.

"I want to break more boundaries for people with disabilities to compete with normal people. Just to see that will give them a bigger moral, a big spirit lifter," said Gonzalez.

The specialized socket that Gonzalez was fitted with is also being studied by the VA for use with other high-tech prosthetic limbs.

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UCSF, gang violence, san jose, health, carolyn johnson
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