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Living with prosthetic legs, as a quad amputee, has been a lifesaver. I know that many people have questions about life after leg amputation, so in this post, I intend to address 5 things you need to know about prosthetic legs.
Life after leg amputation: Types of prosthetic legs
There are two types of prosthetic legs. I have below the knee prosthetic legs. My amputations are evenly amputated on both of my legs, at mid calf. This means that both of my legs are the same length. A custom socket, a gel liner, socks for cushioning, an aluminum post and a battery operated foot make up the below the knee prosthetic leg.
The other type of legs are above the knee prosthetic legs. These also consist of a custom socket, aluminum post and a foot. However, for above the knee prosthetic legs, they have the addition of a knee attachment. Since I’m not an expert on above the knee prosthetic legs, I can only assume that they also include gel liners and socks.
The benefits of prosthetics
Obviously without complete use of your legs, whether you have one amputated leg or two, you are at the mercy of crutches or a wheelchair. Mobility is a factor. Since I received my two prosthetic legs, I have full mobility. I don’t use crutches or a wheelchair at all and I haven’t since I learned how to use my legs. This is a major benefit of prosthetics. Today, eight years later, my life after leg amputation is completely normal. I feel as if my legs are real, with the exception of having to take them off at night.
The process for getting new legs
It’s been over five years since I’ve had new legs made. After five years my warranty is null so my legs are so longer eligible for adjustments. So my husband and I decided to take the plunge and start the process to upgrade and move into something new.
A lot has changed since the last time I had legs made. I’m currently wearing my first real set of prosthetic legs. I had a previous trial pair, but these are heavy and bulky and have big black batteries strapped to the side. The batteries are for my feet which are hydraulic and adapt for things like going up and down ramps and climbing stairs. I plug them in every night before I go to bed.
What is a prosthetist?
To get the ball rolling, we set an appointment with my prosthetist, Tony. What is a prosthetist? A prosthetist is simply an expert in prosthetics. He is responsible for designing the prosthetic leg, he makes the leg, makes adjustments for comfort and handles all the paperwork necessary for the process. Tony works at Capital Orthotics and Prosthetics in Concord and Manchester, New Hampshire, and has been working with me since I was in a rehab hospital in 2011. It’s important to have a good working relationship with your prosthetist because you spend a lot of time together over the years.
My first prosthetics appointment
In my first appointment with Tony we went over the process, what types of feet are available as well as the locking mechanism, which is, how do you stay attached to your legs so you don’t lose them when you walk? In my interview with Tony, the prosthetist, we talked about the things I would like to do that I can’t do with the legs I have now. These include things like hiking, climbing hills, swimming, horseback riding, and hot air ballooning as well as a slew of other ideas. He wanted to know everything. As you can see, life after leg amputation has a lot of limitations.
My current legs limit me. They are functional, but not to the extent I would like them to be. Hiking, for instance, is not possible. The ankles just won’t accommodate that kind of terrain. At the time I got my last set of legs, I needed beginner legs. Activities like hiking were not on my agenda as a new amputee.
What is a physiatrist?
From there, I went to see a physiatrist who is a medical doctor, trained in physical rehabilitation. His job is to make sure my needs synced with his. In order to get insurance approval, my physiatrist needed to give the okay, which he did. I then, had to wait for insurance approval.
The insurance results
Two weeks later, we received the explanation of benefits in the mail stating that there were no benefits. The wording was “This is a 27-year-old who already has functional prosthesis. There is no indication that modifications to the existing prosthetic could not be performed. This is just a convenience and is therefore DENIED”!
Puuuuulease! First of all, it’s terrible to have a child when you’re 1. Since my oldest child is 26 years old, if I were 27, that is logistically impossible. Secondly, these legs were built for a brand new amputee. At the time they were built, I was unstable on new legs, so they were chunky and blocky. That’s why I am limited by the activities that I can do.
Tony advised me that this is part of the dance. He told me that my insurance company is notorious for playing games. They have made a habit of denying everything upfront so that we have to fight them for everything. Often, it is a time game that involve delay tactics until you give up. This is sad! You know they weren’t paying attention to anything if they mistake your age and need for legs. After the appeal was made, we got full approval of everything we asked for, thankfully.
Designing prosthetic legs
Designing prosthetic legs is the fun part. Since prosthetic legs are made up of a custom socket, aluminum post and a foot, the next step was to test out 2 separate feet to see which features I liked best. I settled on the Endolite foot by Elan. According the their website, the “Endolite Biomimetic Hydraulic Technology mimics the dynamic and adaptive qualities of muscle actuation to encourage more natural gait”. This is important because I want to walk as normally as possible.
From there, my prosthetist measures me and makes a plaster mold of my limbs that serve as the basis for my custom socket. The socket is made out of fiberglass but it has a pliable inner liner for comfort. I wear an additional gel liner right over my limb to protect my skin and enable longer use of the socket. Because my legs fluctuate in size throughout the day, we use socks to create a perfect fit. Socks create extra warmth, which is why I wear shorts all year around. The foot and socket are connected by an aluminum post.
How do prosthetic legs attach?
I am completely blessed to be on the receiving end of a brand new method of attaching the leg to the socket. In the past, I’ve used what’s called a pin system. It consists of a two inch long pin that has grooves in it. This pin attaches to the bottom of my gel liner. Then there is a gear at the bottom of my socket. Once I’m ready to put my leg on, the liner goes on, plus the socks I need, and then I step into the socket and click, click, click, I’m attached to the leg. (There’s always three clicks).
My new prosthetic legs attach by using an electromagnetic suspension system. Whereas before the pin was on the bottom of my liner, now there’s a magnet. There’s another electromagnet on the bottom of the socket. When I step into the socket, this time with only one click, the magnets attach to each other. There’s a switch which turns the magnetization on and off. So when it’s time to take my legs off for the day, I simply turn the switch to off, which unlocks the seal and the leg can be removed.
Update: Unfortunately the magnets weren’t all as effective that they were promised to be. Because of the movement and the sizing of my legs throughout the day, there was too much variance in my sockets. The magnets would not stay together.
On a daily occurence, I would feel the magnets separate and my leg would loosen in the socket. It became no longer safe. So I went back to my pin locking system. Now, I’m completely comfortable and I trust that I won’t lose my leg during simple regular activities. Oh well, it was worth a try.
Walking with two prosthetic legs
I first learned to walk with new prosthetic legs once I healed from leg amputation surgery. It’s important that there are no open wounds. Additionally, it is advised that you don’t wear your prosthetic legs all day long, in order to acclimate to having new prosthetic legs on. It didn’t take me very long to get to the point where I wore them from morning until night.
At first, I felt like a baby giraffe trying to stand for the first time. Remember, I was walking with two prosthetic legs so it was extremely awkward. Normally, you train with parallel bars in the prosthetists office. However, because I didn’t have hands, my husband Mike was on one side and Tony was on the other. I graduated to a special walker designed for upper amputees, once I was more secure on my new legs. I went through physical therapy for several months after that. It didn’t take long for me to acclimate to the legs. I still struggle with stairs, but my gait looks completely normal and with long pants on, you would never know my legs had been amputated and I was walking with prosthetic legs.
As you can see, I was able to add “butterfly tattoos” onto my new legs. I love butterflies and thought was a great idea to add them to my new prosthetic legs. We simply picked up some fabric and we cut out the butterflies and Tony sealed over them. Some people will cover the whole socket. The opportunities are endless.
Life after leg amputation
My surgeries happened in 2011, so since we are eight years out now, walking with two prosthetic legs feels absolutely normal for me now. In order to get me ready for the day, I wake up with my husband when he gets ready for work at 4:30 am. He dresses me and puts my liners and socks on. I go back to bed until I wake up to start my day at 6:30. Mike has put my legs next to the bed, so I simply step into them and I’m good to go for the day. I’m really looking forward to breaking in my new legs and seeing what they are capable of.
There are many aspects to life after leg amputation. I cannot shower with prosthetic legs or immerse them in water. They run on a rechargeable battery. It doesn’t hurt to wear prosthetic legs, however, I have developed a couple of sore areas that I simply cushion with a bandaid before I put my gel liner on.
Life as an amputee has its challenges. Additional blog posts you may be interested in are:
Additionally, a really great resource is the Amputee Coalition. I have found this frequently asked questions for new amputees fact sheet to be extremely helpful. The Amputee Coalition is as great organization. This September I plan to undergo training to be one of their peer counselors, so that I can help brand new amputees in our area.
If you have any questions, feel free to let me know. I am so thankful that I have the freedom of walking with two prosthetic legs and the mobility that brings.