Chris Rowles sits on his beach chair, crossing one leg over the other as he enjoys the sunset at Point Mugu. It’s a move most of us take for granted, but one he missed for 5 years.
He missed other things, too, like walking on the beach, trout fishing in the Sierras, and even turning easily from the cutting board to the kitchen sink. All of these were difficult when he was living with a traditional socket prosthetic after losing much of his left leg.
“This new technology is the closest thing I’ve seen to actually creating a bionic leg.”
Now he has a new prosthetic leg anchored directly into his thigh bone, which has given him more stability and ease in moving around.
“You don’t even think you have a prosthetic leg,” says Chris. “You just go back to when you had two legs. You know you have limitations, but you don’t think about the limitations.”
“Hope and suction”
Chris, a former LAPD officer, was injured in the line of duty. Complications from the injury resulted in an aggressive staph infection, and eventually, to Chris losing his leg above the knee.
For 5 years, he got by with a traditional socket prosthetic, one held on by nothing more than “hope and suction,” he says. But he found it uncomfortable and even dangerous—he fell frequently and instability caused additional health problems, like strain on his back and other knee.
His experience isn’t uncommon. Over time, many people stop using their prosthetics due to pain, inflammation, skin irritation, blistering, and balance problems, says Dr. Daniel C. Allison, orthopaedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai.
“He really wanted to get out, enjoy life, and help other people—and this was stopping him from doing that.”
Chris initially came to Dr. Allison about pain in his other knee, a result of the uncomfortable prosthetic he’d been wearing. Dr. Allison quickly realized that many of Chris’ problems were related to his amputation and the difficulty he was having with his artificial limb.
“He actually ended up falling because he was losing control, even with one of the most modern prosthetic designs,” Dr. Allison says. “Eventually, that led him to stop using his prosthetic for a significant part of the day. I could tell this was difficult for him, because he really wanted to get out, enjoy life, and help other people—and this was stopping him from doing that.”
New prosthetic technology
Bone-anchored prosthetics like the one Chris has now are fairly new and Dr. Allison is among the first surgeons to use the technique, known as osseointegration, in the US.
“This new technology is the closest thing I’ve seen to actually creating a bionic leg, especially when combined with the most up-to-date prosthetic technology,” Dr. Allison says.
“It adheres permanently to the skeleton, and it’s part of their body—rather than feeling like something that’s strapped on to their skin.”
Chris was first in Southern California to undergo the two-part procedure osseointegration requires.
The first step implants a hollow tube into the bone—in his case, the femur; the second secures a rod inside the tube that protrudes from the limb, allowing a prosthetic limb to be snapped on and secured, rather than relying on suction like a traditional prosthetic.
“We’re taking pure mechanics and really matching it to the biology of the body. It adheres permanently to the skeleton, and it’s part of their body—rather than feeling like something that’s strapped on to their skin.”
Back to the beach
“One of the things about me—I’ve never asked for a lot of help,” Chris says. “I probably needed it when I had the socket. Now, I don’t even feel the need to ask anyone for help because I feel so much more confident in myself.”
Chris can attach and remove his new prosthetic in a matter of seconds—rather than the time-consuming process of trying to arrange the liners and get the suction just right with his old prosthetic.
“You don’t even think you have a prosthetic leg. You just go back to when you had two legs.”
“It’s been a wonderful improvement for my mobility,” Chris says. “One of the things I’ve always enjoyed most is being close to the ocean. Before, walking from a parking space and across the sand was difficult. Now, I can take a fairly normal walk across the sand and down to the water.”
Chris is a grateful patient and supporter of the Campaign for Cedars-Sinai. Learn more about the Campaign.
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