Make no bones about it - Blair's feeling like a new man

RELISHING LIFE: Blair Marriott’s new prosthetic leg, attached through a process known as osseointegration, is locked into his bone and feels almost like the real thing.
RELISHING LIFE: Blair Marriott’s new prosthetic leg, attached through a process known as osseointegration, is locked into his bone and feels almost like the real thing.

After two rounds of ground-breaking surgery, Blair Marriott is a true bionic man.

The 41-year-old former firefighter, from Paraparaumu, had his right leg amputated above the knee after a motorcycle crash on the Kapiti Coast in December 2010. But he was never totally satisfied with his prosthetic leg, and seized his chance this year to take part in a radical new process called osseointegration, led by an Australian surgeon.

It involves inserting a titanium rod into the bone - in Marriott's case, his femur, or thigh bone. Designed with pores that enable it to bind with the bone, the implant essentially integrates into the body.

"They knock you out, cut open your leg, then they drill out the inside of your femur with a big long drill," he says.

"They measure you up for the implant then they literally hammer it into your bone. Then you're sewn back up.

"Then the bone of your femur knits back into the covering of the implant, essentially locking it in."

He had the first stage of surgery in March, and the second last month, both performed by surgeon John McKie as part of a New Zealand trial, run by ACC.

Though it has been less than a month since he had the second stage of the surgery, he has already noticed an improvement when pushing his weight down on a temporary leg - he will be given his final leg when he can bear half his body weight.

"It feels like my old real human leg. Not so much the foot, but I can feel my old real knee and it feels like I am pushing weight through it."

His new leg should enable him to experience "osseoperception", where he will be able to feel the ground through his nerves and differentiate between surfaces.

With his old prosthesis, he could tell his foot was on the ground only because of the way his hip was angled.

Fellow amputee Phil Coulson, who had the operation in Sydney two years ago, has told him he can now tell when he walks from different material on to grass.

Because he was interested to observe the making of his new leg, Marriott opted to stay awake for the second surgery, in which he was numbed from the chest down by an epidural.

A dual cone adaptor was connected to the internal stem of the implant, which is what the external prosthesis will eventually attach to.

"It was neat watching it," he says.

"They're good at what they are doing, but I didn't like not feeling my body. You certainly get an appreciation for people who are paralysed."

As well as the titanium implant, Marriott hopes soon to have a new knee installed, called the Otto Bock Genium.

"It's a $125,000 computerised knee. It's fantastic.

"The Genium knee understands how fast you're walking, it sets parameters and, if you all of a sudden stumble, it will lock itself out so you can push back without collapsing the knee."

'I Told People How To Tie My Leg Off'

Blair Marriott remembers his motorcycle accident horribly well. "My leg was sitting over there [on the road]. I got hit, sat up, had a look at my leg and went, ‘Oh I'm in trouble,' and started yelling at people to help."

As a firefighter for 17 years, he knew what needed to be done. "Because I couldn't use my hands, I told people how to tie my leg off. Then I managed to call my fiancee and tell her."

Since the December 2010 accident, in which he was hit head-on by a speeding and stolen car, he has maintained a positive outlook on life.

He still works for the New Zealand Fire Service, but now as an administrator of the computer system.

"I've never let a second or a third thought bother me. You've just got to get on with it. You can get busy dying, or get busy living."

The Dominion Post