- 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.

After a consultation and a short morning visit to Golden O&P; the following day, he was on the move, with just a little help from his crutches.

“It’s nice now. I can walk. My hands are free,” Peck told The Tribune-Democrat in a phone interview.

Golden O&P; spokeswoman Karlee Smith said the supplier checked in on Peck a week after he was fitted with the new limb.

She asked him what was the most fulfilling part about his new limb.

“He said, ‘I don’t need people’s help anymore,’ ” Smith said.

Peck said it’s taken some time to get used to his new leg, but he’s learning quickly.

“It felt pretty good to be walking. If you’ve ever been on crutches … for very long, you’d imagine it can limit what you can do,” Peck said. “You can’t carry things. You can’t go places you would normally go.

“I can move. I can walk. … The most important thing is, now I can carry things,” he said. “You don’t realize how you’re dependent on other people when you’re walking on crutches. … After a while, you get a little self-conscious about that. You don’t want to be dependent on people.”

Although Kahle had already reviewed Peck’s case and saw an opportunity to help, Peck discovered that his insurance reimbursements weren’t applicable in Florida. So, Kahle offered to travel to Johnstown and help train and certify Golden’s Kuerth, making him the only local prosthetist who can fabricate elevated vacuum prostheses.

“These guys at Golden Orthotics, they were the only ones that would get Jason to come up and teach them,” Peck said. “I tried other places … (They were) the only people that were smart enough to say, ‘We don’t know everything.’ They wanted to learn.

“They took a chance, paid (Kahle) to come up here and teach them this new deal.”

And Kuerth said Kahle’s technique is already changing outlooks for many of his other patients.

Keurth said he’s reviewing at least three other patients who are due for new limb sockets to see if they’re good candidates for the new system.

“It’s not for everybody,” he said. “This would not be something you’d do on a 75-year-old geriatric patient. They just don’t need that level of suspension.”

Kuerth said his business is goal-oriented. He aims to return his patients to the level of mobility they want. It’s about quality of life, he said.

“One of the first things we do when we evaluate a new patient (is) we ask them, ‘What are your interests? What do you want to do and where do you want to return to?’ ” he said.

Peck still needs some refitting, as the limb settles into his new vacuum socket.

Once he gets the finished product, he’ll also be able to bend at the knee.

Of course, all this will serve to improve his game on the bowling lanes.

“I’ve mastered throwing the ball balancing on one foot,” he told Smith. “Now, I’ve got a whole other foot to work with.”





Information from: The Tribune-Democrat, https://www.tribune-democrat.com

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