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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Houston First VA to Fit Patient with Bionic Foot

August 1, 2006

Cutting-edge prosthetic device not yet available to general population.

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Mark Benveniste, R.N., B.S., C.P., MEDVAMC certified prosthetist makes a few adjustments to U.S. Marine veteran Al Perdew's new prosthesis. Perdew is the first VA patient nationwide to be fit with the Proprio "Bionic" FootTM. This technologically advanced prosthesis thinks for itself, responding automatically to changing terrain, stairs, slopes, and level-ground walking as needed.
Photo by: Fran Burke, MEDVAMC Public Affairs Specialist


HOUSTON – The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) recently became the first VA medical center to fit a patient with the Proprio “Bionic” FootTM, just weeks after Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. This technologically advanced prosthesis thinks for itself, responding automatically to changing terrain, stairs, slopes, and level-ground walking as needed.

“This prosthetic device contains cutting-edge sensor technology and artificial intelligence that identifies slopes and the ascent or descent of stairs after the first step, and instructs the ankle to flex appropriately. Users can place the foot fully on a step when climbing or descending stairs and it will automatically adapt its ankle position to take the next step,” said Mark Benveniste, R.N., B.S., C.P., MEDVAMC certified prosthetist. “This battery-powered, computer-controlled foot allows the forefoot to move upward in mid-swing to clear the ground, acting as your ankle when required.”

This anatomically correct response creates a more symmetrical and balanced gait, reducing the need to ‘hip hike’ when walking or compromise stability. The device’s active ankle motion allows users to tuck both feet back behind their knees when getting up from a chair or sitting down so it is not necessary to load the entire body weight on the sound limb. It also points the 'toe' down for a more natural appearance once seated.

“Despite its sophisticated technology, this prosthesis has an extremely user-friendly design and is easy to set up and operate. During a simple calibration process, the device evaluates and memorizes an individual’s unique gait pattern. Plus, heel height can be easily adjusted at any time without compromising alignment,” said Richard Nelson, C.O., B.O.C./P.O., MEDVAMC Orthotic Laboratory chief.

VA health care specialists have access to the latest technologies. These include microprocessor components such as the RHEO knee, Adaptive knee, and the C-Leg. These computer-controlled hydraulic, pneumatic, and rheomagnetic systems are regulated by internal feedback. Sensors in the pylon and the knee itself send information such as toe load, knee angle, and other information to an onboard microprocessor.

“It is important for the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center to offer our veterans a wide variety of advanced products. Our goal is to increase mobility and improve quality of life for a greater range of amputees than ever before,” Angela Bishop, MEDVAMC Prosthetic Treatment Center chief.

No less important than new prosthetic technology is the overall care an amputee receives during rehabilitation. The model for that care has changed over the years to improve services to VA patients. The goal is not only to teach amputees to walk or use an artificial arm and hand, but to integrate body, mind, and machine. Continuing care and long-term support from VA multi-disciplinary teams have shown that patients often can improve their functioning months or years after their injuries or amputation.

In the past, most VA prosthetic patients lost limbs in combat.  Today’s typical patient is a middle-aged male who suffered an amputation due to vascular disease. In the future, VA expects to provide prostheses to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Veterans at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center continue to benefit from the latest scientific advances in health care and the newest technology available on the market today,” said Phyllis J. Smith, M.B.A., MEDVAMC Clinical Support Service Line executive.

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