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Amputee Life

Life After Leg Amputation: 5 Things to Know About Prosthetic Legs

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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.amputee leg standing on wood floor, life after leg amputation

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.new prosthetic legs, silver sneakers, gray liners

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.

new prosthetic leg gray liners without legs

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.

prosthetic legs with butterfly tattoos, living with amputationsAs 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.purple text, love, wendy

 

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48 Comments

  1. It’s amazing to know that prosthetics will make it possible to be fully mobile without crutches after an amputation. My brother has been thinking about getting some exercise too lose weight after needing a wheelchair for the past three years since his amputation. Perhaps getting prosthetics for his right leg will make him be able to at least do some brisk walking on his own.

    1. That’s a great idea, Alice. I’m so thankful you found my site. I definitely believe that anything that will get your brother out of his wheelchair will be a great improvement to his life. Prosthetics are great. I don’t even think about them after I click into my legs in the morning. Be sure and reach out if you have any questions, okay?

  2. It’s good that you point out that prosthetic legs can increase mobility in people who have had limbs amputated. My brother recently had one of his legs amputated, and I’m considering having a prosthetic one made for him. I’m going to look for a good maker of custom prosthetic legs in my area.

    1. Hello Wendy, your story is very hopeful…i have had my prosthetic leg for a little over a year.i very much want to wear it all day everyday,as it is i may go a week or two before putting it on… I know that i will not get used toU it like this..i find that i don’t walk right so i am not confident wearing it…i use a walker still. Am afraid of falling. How did you get past that? I at this time am not able to do house work vacuum clean kitchen bathrooms etc…how did you make this work for you. I read your comment and to some extent i have done walking without assistant like my walker … My ultimate goal is exactly what you said walk normal as if its always been this way. I am grateful for the chance to have normal life…as it is im depressed all the time…maybe you have suggestions i might try… Thank you for reading this.

      1. Terry, I would suggest that you re-visit your prosthetist. Your leg shouldn’t hurt, but feel natural and comfortable. The walker is great until you get your balance, and with practice you’ll be able to get rid of it very soon. Good luck.

  3. Wow, I had no idea that some prosthetic legs can be attached through electromagnetic suspension systems. I am really glad I found this article so I could learn more about how prosthetics work because I had surgery and they had to amputate my foot. I will make sure I talk to an orthopedist about this so I know what to do next.

    1. Hi Faylinn, I’m thankful you’re here. The update on the magnets is that they aren’t as reliable as they were promised to be. I’m going back to the pin locking system so I’ll feel more secure.

  4. I have been informed that i may have to have my lower right leg amputated. One of my concerns is the phantom pain after the operation. Is this general. I am scared as i do not know if its the way forward because for the last 7 years i have had 7 knee revisions which have become infected with Enterobacter cloacae. I have and still am in continued pain in the lower portion of my leg.
    Please advise.

    1. Hi Maurice, I wish I was qualified to advise you, but I’m not a doctor. I do know of many people who have felt relief after amputation. That being said, phantom pain is a real thing. For me, I only get it once or twice a month. Medication helps. However for others, it’s more of a regular occurence. You have to do what is right for you and will provide the best outcome. Pray about it. God is good. I pray you find relief soon.

  5. A very nice article. Some good basic information briefly touching on the subject. As a new amputee, there is a lot of information that comes your way. I am always looking at the information available to amputees because there is some good and some bad. I provide a podcast for amputees where information and topics are discussed. Again, nice article.
    Sean
    AmpLifeTalkRadio

  6. Wendy, you are such an inspiration to me! I am so thankful that the insurance company approved your new legs!! ❤ Your posts are always filled with a joy that can only come from Jesus. Sending love and hugs your way …

    1. Thanks so much, Donna. I’m thankful that the insurance company approved my new legs too. Sometimes I wonder if they even think about what the patients needs are. Nevertheless, I’m blessed with 2 new legs that are a great improvement.

  7. I just love it when people allow God to use their difficult situations to become a means to helping others in similar situations! What a blessing this post will be to so many who face the scary reality of life after leg amputation!
    Beyond that, these 5 things to know about prosthetic legs is helpful, not just to amputees, but to all the rest of us as well! What a wonderful source of information to help educate and inform us! Thank-you Wendy for your bravery and transparency, and for your wonderful attitude and heart! I so appreciate this wonderful post!

    1. Thank you so much Cherith! My hope in writing this post is to provide a source of information as well as inspiration. Amputation is scary, but it’s not the end of the world. For those who go through it, I think the options of what comes next are helpful.

    1. Thank you, Cheyenne. I love the butterflies. You never really know how they’ll turn out, but I’m completely happy.

  8. Very informative. I am an RN in the rehab department and I have had many patients with prosthetics However, you have shared information in your post that I did not know. I’ve always wondered about how they fitted correctly and how easily the patients walked in them. I will be able to take from your post and use the knowledge I gained on my job. Thanks for Sharing!

    1. I’m so glad I could give you some understanding, Denise. If you ever have specific questions like that, I’m m happy to answer them. Just let me know.

  9. This post really opened my eyes to the challenges and blessings of prosthesis. Wendy, you are such a precious sister in Christ. I am thankful that you have a loving hubby also who helps you get your day started. I love this post, sweet friend. ❤

  10. Thanks so much for sharing all of this here Wendy. I had no idea you could appeal insurance claims. I’m glad you got what you needed especially with all of the misinformation in the denial. I’m so glad you are teaching us about a world I know little about. May God continue to bless you as you share!

    1. I appreciate you saying that Brittany! I pray I can help those who are in the same situation as I am, but also educate those who aren’t. That’s my goal!

  11. I learned so much, and I’m a nurse! Technology has really improved since I learned about prosthetics. I think you’ll be a great resource for new amputees!

  12. Thank you so much for showing what it’s like to embrace your new life after leg amputation! It really answered a lot of questions. I think one of my relatives might be headed toward amputation, so this helped. I appreciate it and your contagious positivity!

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your relative, Jessica. Please share my blog with them and if you have any questions, I’ll m happy to help.

  13. Wendy – I think you are totally amazing! Your courage and wonderful attitude are an inspiration to anyone and everyone. The world needs the kind of positive example you are setting.

  14. I learned so much about life after leg amputation in this post! Not only that, I learned about the process and I had no clue about how legs were made to fit each person. I do love that you put tattoos on them and that the opportunities are endless with that!

    Thank you for sharing this post!

    1. Thanks so much, Jennifer. Yes, I know people who will wrap the whole socket with their favorite patterns. Plus, there’s covers available and skins which cover all the metal to look like a real leg.

  15. This is amazing. I have one friend whose son is an amputee (one leg) and I had one uncle with only one arm. My friend’s son has a prosthetic leg. My uncle never had one. He just did everything with one arm which always amazed me. I never realized all that is involved in obtaining a well functioning prosthetic limb and adjusting to it. Thank you for so much good information!

    1. Thank you, Tina. Yes, I use prosthetic legs, but nothing on my arms. It’s just easier. I can’t do everything, but I’m making it work.

  16. What an amazing story you have! Such an inspiration! I absolutely love the butterfly tattoos. I can’t imagine the difficulty of missing one limb, much less more than one. I have a friend who had a leg amputation about a year ago and I sent her your blog. She has been a real trooper but I hope she is able to gain even more encouragement from you and see that there truly is life after leg amputation.

    1. Thank you so much, Christi! I appreciate that you shared my blog. I would love to encourage your friend. There can definitely be an incredible life after leg amputation.

  17. Such a great post that provides so much information for anyone who might be looking at needing and using prosthetic legs. I’m sure this is can be a scary new chapter for someone so it’s great to have someone like you sort of “walking them through” (pun intended!) it and showing them how to navigate this new journey.

    1. Thank you so much, LeeAnn! I really do want to help others in their amputation “walk” in addition to providing inspiration and hope. Thank you for your feedback.

  18. Thank you so much for sharing! I hope your blog gets out to everyone that can benefit from your knowledge! You’re an inspiration, God bless you!

  19. Wendy, it’s incredible how much I have learned about life after leg amputation from this post. You make it so easy to understand and don’t mind anyone asking questions…no matter how nutty they may seem. Your story is gonna encourage others that are or will face a similar situation. I already thought of you as one of the most inspirational Women I have ever met but after reading this and your journey on a daily basis that has skyrocketed. I consider myself blessed to know you and call you my friend!

    1. Awe, Angie, you are so sweet. I appreciate your saying that. I try to keep it real and help others. Thanks for reading.

    1. Hi Janice, Yes they use batteries. But once you get the hang of it, they’re very easy to operate. Thanks for reading!

  20. Wendy, I learned so much about life after leg amputation from this post. I have never met anyone who I felt comfortable asking questions too on this subject and I feel as if I have a good understanding now. Thank you for sharing your journey. Not only will it encourage amputees but it helps people like me understand!

    1. Thanks, Heather. I am always willing to help people understand. Unfortunately, there are more amputees in the world every day. I hope to be a resource of information and hope to everyone.

  21. This whole post was so educational and inspirational. You have had to work through so much to get your prosthesis (Did I say that right?). My great aunt has been through this process and I think your site would really encourage her. I will share it all around!

    1. Hi Tiffany, I’m so thankful you found this post educational. By all means, please share it! Thank you for reading!

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