Prosthetics: The Way To Independence

Heath was initially fit with prosthetics during his 9 month stay at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C.  “I learned immediately that life was definitely going to be different using prosthetic limbs. I could not believe how much energy it took just to stand. It was a real wake up call because I thought that I would just put these things on like a pair of shoes and off I would go. That was not the case,” said Calhoun.

He continued his therapy after he moved back to Clarksville, TN and tried everyday to get better at walking and improving his mobility. His biggest struggle was the fit of the socket. Because Heath’s amputations were the result of an explosion, the trauma to his femurs was severe and as his body healed, he developed bone spurs at the ends of his limbs. Over the next 2 years he would visit many different prosthetic specialists and each time try a new silicone gel liner to improve the fit of the socket. But this introduced rotation problems where the prosthesis would actually turn on his limb as he was walking and that was very frustrating.

Finally, after many attempts Heath felt like he was just not a candidate for using prosthetics. After all, he had never seen another bilateral above knee amputee that was walking independently and using prosthetics in their daily lives. He had seen photos of triple amputee Cameron Clapp but he just thought they quickly took his cane away to snap the photo, it just couldn’t be real.

In June 2006, Heath’s life would again be forever changed. He attended the Amputee Coalition of America national conference in Minneapolis and at the encouragement of another wounded service-member, he went to the Bilateral Above Knee Prosthetic User Workshop. There was Cameron and 4 other bilateral above knee amputees actually walking, picking up chairs, walking down ramps, stepping off curbs, walking down stairs, things that Heath felt were impossible for a bilateral above knee amputee to do.

After the workshop, he spoke with the presenters, Kevin Carroll, MS, CP, FAAOP, V.P. of Prosthetics for Hanger Prosthetics and Randy Richardson, RPA. He asked them if they thought it would be possible for him to be able to achieve a similar result for himself as he had seen at the workshop. After an evaluation, the answer was yes, but the socket fit would be critical,
especially on the right limb that sustained the most damage from the blast.

The Hanger ComfortFlex Socket

The Hanger ComfortFlex Socket is highly contoured to match the underlying bone and muscle tissue. Heath’s sockets are a direct contact vacuum system that does not use any type of silicone or gel liners over his skin. Heath’s limbs are fully desensitized and are able to bear weight distally. This is a big benefit as the socket feels more like a part of him as he can feel
sensations from the prosthesis up through the socket into his femurs. This allows him to safely operate a car without using hand controls or other adaptations. Using the second programmable mode of the C-Leg knee system, he is able to accurately move from the gas to brake pedal with his right prosthesis and even operate the clutch with his left prosthesis.

Heath has not used a wheelchair since July 5, 2006 and uses his prostheses for his daily mobility and independence. He can wear the prosthesis everyday from morning until night and on occasion has worn them for 30 straight hours while traveling to other countries for his ski race training.

Heath uses a variety of components that he attaches below the socket but he uses the same two sockets for all of his activities. This also makes it easier to travel as he doesn’t need to carry different sockets that are attached to different components.

Prosthetic Components

For everyday use, Heath uses the Otto Bock C-Leg. He has tried many different microprocessor knees as well as non-microprocessor knees and the C-Leg gives him the most stability and control currently possible. He is using the Otto Bock Axtion feet and non-torsion pylons.

For running he is using the Springlite Sprinter feet and hydraulic knees.

He also has a pair of “stubbie” feet that are special small platforms that bolt directly below the sockets. These can be used for hiking on uneven terrain eliminating a knee joint that can buckle. They can also be used for fishing or other wet environments that would damage the C-Leg.

For swimming he uses the ActiveAnkle feet that lock at 90 degrees for walking and 180 degrees for swimming.

Heath continues to choose to be fit by Hanger prosthetist Chad Simpson in the Oklahoma City patient care center.