Living prosthetic '1000 per cent better' for amputee

MAJOR IMPROVEMENT: Phillip Coulson is thrilled with the prosthetic leg he got in Sydney.
MAJOR IMPROVEMENT: Phillip Coulson is thrilled with the prosthetic leg he got in Sydney.

Integrated prosthetic legs are the "holy grail" for amputees and a year after having one fitted, a Nelson man who lost his leg from the knee down in a motorcycle accident says the change has been "fantastic".

In October 2010, while taking his lovingly restored Ducati 750 F1 on its maiden voyage, mental health worker Phillip Coulson, 46, lost his leg after a high-speed collision with a campervan.

The father-of-three used a conventional socket artificial leg at first but in March and May last year he became the first New Zealander to undergo osseo-integration surgery in Sydney.

He was fitted with an integrated limb - a weight-bearing pylon that goes right into the bone rather than cupping the stump like a traditional prosthetic.

Mr Coulson spoke at the Amputees Federation of New Zealand national conference in Wellington on Saturday and told the audience about the fast-evolving surgical technology that could make life easier for hundreds of Kiwi amputees.

Getting a true feel for underfoot textures such as gravel and grass was one of the first things he noticed after the surgery.

"I remember sliding my foot along the carpet and joking: I think this carpet's an 80/20 wool-nylon mix," Mr Coulson said.

"I wore the leg for about five minutes and my face hurt more than the leg.

"I couldn't wipe the smile off it."

It hasn't all been plain sailing though - he has had complications including infections but the pros definitely outweigh the cons. "It's a thousand per cent better and it's probably as close to having your leg back as will be available in my lifetime.

"It feels like a dead leg below the knee," Mr Coulson said.

"It just feels more like part of you rather than something being attached to you."

Mr Coulson, a keen mountain biker, now has longer endurance, better gait and range of motion, and no longer needs crutches.

"If this is successful and effective, it's probably the holy grail for most amputees," Christchurch orthopaedic surgeon John McKie said.

Mr McKie also attended the conference and performed the surgery for the first time in New Zealand on Christchurch woman Leigh Ellis last week.

"It's an exciting concept but like everything in life there are no free lunches," he said. There were still risks of infection and mechanical failure, and the cost still loomed large.

Mr Coulson paid for his own surgery, which cost about $100,000.

The Ministry of Health and ACC funded Ms Ellis' trial surgery and are reviewing how the procedure might be funded and who would be eligible.

Next level limbs

A metal stem is implanted directly into the femur of an amputated leg.

In a second operation the leg is reopened and another part, called an adapter, is connected to the metal stem in the femur.

The adapter leads out of the stump and the knee and leg components of the artificial leg fit directly to it.

ILPs are modelled on human anatomy and take the load back to the thigh bone and hip joint when walking.

The technology was first used in Germany in 1999 when an ILP was implanted into the femoral canal of a young man who had lost a leg in a motorcycle accident. Only about 300 of the procedures have been performed worldwide.

ILP is part of the advancing field called osseointegration, which deals with bone and joint replacement.

The Dominion Post