New prosthesis a leap in right direction

01:02, Sep 04 2012
Phil Coulson
CLOCKING UP KILOMETRES: Phil Coulson of Nelson manages well with his new leg.

Nelson man Phil Coulson says his bionic leg is a "big leap forward" and he wants to help other New Zealanders access the revolutionary surgery.

"With the old system I felt quite disabled but now I don't feel that," he said. "I don't consider myself disabled. I'm far more active."

Mr Coulson this year became the first New Zealander to be fitted with a revolutionary type of artificial leg, after undergoing surgery in Sydney.

In the first operation in March, a metal stem was implanted into his femur.

In the second operation, in May, his leg was reopened and another part, called an adaptor, was connected to the metal stem. The adaptor leads out of the stump and the knee and leg components of the artificial leg fit directly on to it.

Mr Coulson's right leg was amputated above the knee following a motorbike accident in Dovedale in October 2010.


He was only the eighth patient of Sydney's McQuarie University Hospital surgeon Munjed Al Muderis to undergo the surgery, and the first Kiwi.

Since then three other New Zealanders have had the operation and more are following.

Five months after his surgery, Mr Coulson said his new leg was all that he hoped it would be, and more.

One of the major benefits was its redistribution of weight back on to the hip in a more natural way, allowing a more natural gait. This in turn put less stress on the hip and body and meant he expended less energy getting around.

On Thursday he clocked up 12,000 steps, or eight kilometres, on his pedometer, setting a new personal record.

Walking that far on the old socket-style prosthesis would have been impossible and would have left him unable to walk the next day because of the pain in his stump.

Mr Coulson said with the old prosthesis he had a limited amount of energy to get through the day.

"Before everything had to be measured. You'd have a cupful of energy a day to get around, I'd know at the end of the day I couldn't really do much. I'd have to stop and watch everybody else have their fun."

He did not have endless energy yet, but said he felt he was getting there.

Other advantages of the new leg include the fact it has sideways movement; allowing him to do something as simple as twist his artificial foot to wipe his feet on a door mat.

It has also given him back some sensation, including being able to distinguish what kind of surface he is walking on.

"It vibrates up into the bone, I can sense carpet."

Putting on the new artificial leg is also much faster and easier. It takes just three seconds to fit the prosthetic, tightening it with an Allen key.

Mr Coulson stressed that the operation involved major surgery and should not be taken lightly.

His new leg had some disadvantages including the risk of infection through the stoma or where the metal exited the skin. But this could be easily managed.

A high-impact fall could also shatter the femur, which meant he could not do high-impact sport.

Another major barrier was the cost.

The operations cost about $80,000 and the prosthesis is an additional cost.

In Australasia, the operation is only available in Sydney and Mr Coulson is pushing for it to be available here.

He believed one person getting the operation may have had a successful application to a Health Ministry fund or had accessed funding from his health board.

Mr Coulson said his surgeon had recently performed the operation on the first person with a below-the-knee amputation.

"I think this is the tip of the iceberg. It's going to be an avalanche soon, he (Munjed Al Muderis) is not going to be able to keep up with it."

The Nelson Mail