Prosthetic Limbs Get a Personal Makeover

PHOTO: Prosthetic limbs get a personalized makeover.PlayBespoke Innovations
WATCH Navy Veteran Gets Prosthetic Arm

Three months after losing a leg to a rare type of bone cancer in November, Tony Phillips needed a prosthetic limb to get on with his recovery.

And while artificial limbs are seldom known for their aesthetic appeal, Phillips wanted to go in a different direction.

"I want the cast to be dark black chrome to look like the Terminator," he said. "It's going to be great."

To make this sci-fi inspired limb a reality, the 46-year-old freelance writer consulted with Bespoke Innovations, a company founded by an industrial designer and orthopedic surgeon, which seeks to personalize prosthetic legs with custom designs, tailoring them to each customer's needs.

From tribal patterns to metallic designs made with synthetic materials, Bespoke Innovations creates "fairings" that surround an existing prosthesis. The equipment, which costs between $4,000 and $6,000, fills out what would have been a leg to re-create the body form by using 3-D scanning to capture the unique leg shape.

View a slideshow of personalized prosthetic limbs.

The San Francisco company's co-founder, Scott Summit, told the Los Angeles Times, "The thought was, if it was beautifully sculpted and crafted, it would change … the way the person actually perceives their own body and, hopefully, it would then change the way society sees amputees."

Now Phillips said he gets to think in a way that he didn't know was possible when he first found out about his impending amputation.

"These prosthetic limbs are pretty fancy technology that have really advanced in the last 10 years because of what is happening to so many servicemen and women," said Phillips. "But they've never been a particularly aesthetic object. I'm grateful to have a product produced that adds a sense of artistry along with anatomical completeness to the picture."

Bespoke's mission is to create an expression of personality and individuality that has never before been possible, according to its website.

Bone cancer also took the leg of Jason Condron, 42, whose limb was amputated "far above the right knee."

When asked by ABC News, Condron said he was not familiar with the personalized fairings offered by Bespoke Innovations but said he "loved the idea of a personalized prosthetic instead of the very ugly foam and pantyhose cover over a metal bar" that he uses.

Unlike his flesh-colored version, it would give a "chance to feel the same creativity a person would have with jewelry or with tattoos," he said.

Given the chance, Condron, a teacher, said he would design his own fairing by covering it with math symbols or metric and standard rulers.

According to the Amputee Coalition, about 1.7 million people live with limb loss in the U.S. Limb loss often happens because of poor circulation related to arterial diseases. More than half of all amputations occur in people with diabetes. Other amputations are often caused by bone cancer variations.

And more recently, war wounds have resulted in a significant percentage of amputations. According to a report from the Congressional Research Service, 1,621 American soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan underwent some sort of amputation between 2001 and 2010.

April is Limb Loss Awareness Month, and some advocacy groups hold up Bespoke Innovations as another way of bringing attention, awareness and normalcy to amputees. Susan Stout, chief communications officer and public policy director at the Amputee Coalition, said that choosing a prosthetic limb is almost like buying a car since there are so many options, styles and designs available today.

"Everyone has different aesthetic tastes, but they all have one thing in common: They want the prosthesis to have a look that helps them feel that they fit in, even if that means by standing out," Stout said in a statement.

"Ultimately, the individual needs to weigh their functional and aesthetic goals, and the expected cost, and discuss these factors with their prosthetist to make an educated decision."

As Phillips currently finishes up his last two rounds of chemotherapy for the cancer, he is slowly getting used to his newly manufactured limb – and looking forward to a customized prosthetic.

It a reminder of his individuality at a difficult time. And as these tricked-out prostheses become more widely available, they are likely to catch the eye of other amputees who wish to give their artificial limbs a style of their own.

"The opportunity to personalize a leg gives amputees a chance to turn a thing that some may be embarrassed about or struggling to accept as their new reality into a statement of the loves of their life," said Condron. "It becomes an extension of us in an artistic expression and a chance to turn something intimately connected to us into a statement of who we [are] as a human beings."