Prosthetic Breakthroughs Will Benefit Boston Bombing Amputees

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Companies such as Next Step are certified "prosthetists," trained in the design, fabrication and fitting of artificial limbs. It works closely with vascular surgeons, physical therapists and primary care physicians to fit amputees with the appropriate components, and to ensure the prosthetic works with the remaining natural limb and functions smoothly.

It takes six to eight weeks from the time of the first fitting for an amputee to adjust to a new prosthetic, Fragomen said. How quickly people get up and moving depends upon their age and the location of the amputation site, as well other injuries they have sustained. For a double amputee, it may take a bit longer to master the balance and stability that goes with adjusting to life with two prosthetic limbs.

While the government usually picks up the entire tab for the cost of a war veteran's prosthetic, this is not the case when an amputation is the result of an accident or attack, such as the Boston bombings.

Prosthetics are covered by 70 to 75 percent of employer-sponsored insurance plans, and 19 states have passed laws requiring private insurers to provide appropriate access to prosthetic care, according to a study conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management in 2011. Those who don't have adequate insurance coverage can expect to pay up to $40,000 per limb, not including hospital stays and rehabilitation costs.

It's possible that some of the Boston bombing victims who are marathoners will consider owning two sets of prosthetics: One for everyday use and one for running.

"Cheetah" blades, such as those worn by South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius, are designed primarily for athletic activities. Each blade is custom-built for the individual from high-performance carbon fiber at a cost of about $10,000 each.

Albuquerque hopes that any runner who lost one or even two legs in the Boston Marathon blasts will one day finish the race on prosthetic limbs.

"You can say what you want about him, but Pistorius showed that technology has gotten to the point where someone who is missing both their limbs can run in the Olympics against able-bodied people," he said. "Not that everyone can get to that point, but it paints a picture of hope for amputees out there that the possibilities are endless."

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