- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 6, 2014

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) - It’s been nearly 25 years since Gary Peck could walk on two legs. The Everett man’s left leg was amputated above the knee after a car accident in 1971. He was just 16 years old.

He was fitted with a prosthetic limb soon after, but a muscle tear near the bottom of his residual limb in 1990 meant he’d instead have to rely on crutches to get around.

It took a recently developed limb-fitting technique and a local prosthetist’s willingness to train in that new technique, but a little over six weeks ago, Peck walked out of Golden Orthotics & Prosthetics in Richland Township, his independence restored.

“His residual limb had become very bony,” said Peck’s prosthetist, Joe Kuerth of Golden O&P.; “It had become kind of pointed and bony, and he was having trouble being comfortable in prostheses.”

Peck needed a “revision” surgery, Kuerth said, which would shave down the end of his femur and create a larger fleshy pad at the bottom. But Peck’s insurance carrier deemed it cosmetic surgery, since it was not life-threatening. He couldn’t afford it out of pocket.

But that didn’t stop Peck from doing the things he loves.

He even took up bowling about seven years ago, joining a league a few years later. He rigged a special harness that attaches to his crutch and allows him a free hand for the ball. He said he rolls 150 on average, and he’s even developed his own hook shot.

“He bowls probably a lot better than I do,” Kuerth said with a laugh.

After years of reinventing his habits and relying on others, a physical therapist with Mile Level Physical Therapy in Bedford connected Peck with a Florida prosthetist who would give him new hope - and also improve Kuerth’s patient outcomes.

Jason Kahle of Westcoast Brace & Limb had recently developed an “elevated vacuum” technique for above-the-knee amputees that provides more stability, control and a more snug fit for the prosthetic.

The key is a silicone sleeve that rolls up the residual limb but also attaches to the socket.

The sleeve goes inside the limb - which rises a little less than a foot up Peck’s residual leg - and a constant 20- to 25-pound vacuum is drawn out of a small tap hose outside the socket, sealing the connection. The pump that maintains that vacuum is built into Peck’s artificial foot, Kuerth said.

Every time he takes a step, it draws air out of the socket.

“Because that containment is so positive, we can get stability in the limb without doing all this other stuff that’s more approximate,” Kuerth said

Peck’s review of the new elevated vacuum limb is glowing.

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