One in every 190 U.S. citizens lives with a lost limb, so it’s no surprise to see new and exciting prosthetic designs in the news from time to time. Just this year the Department of Defense recently unveiled an artificial hand that can feel pressure with the aid of sensors and a tattoo artist in France gained some notoriety when he modified an existing arm prosthesis in order to create a one-of-a-kind tattoo machine.
Prostheses are all around us and they exist at the intersection of form, beauty, and functionality. Not only do they give their wearers the ability to perform everyday tasks, they also inspire many to redefine what the body can do in truly remarkable ways. Here are just a few of the ways that people are innovating in the world of prosthetics.
Most prostheses are designed for walking, working, and other daily activities, but there are countless athletic amputees (including many veterans) who want and deserve more.
Jeff Glasbrenner a below the knee amputee, has over 4 legs including: “daily,” mountaineering, running, and biking legs. Just this year he was able to use his special mountaineering prosthesis to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Here he is on a practice climb:
Prostheses are also made for the swimming and other water activities. In fact, solider Scott Schroeder who lost his legs and arm in Afghanistan uses specialized prosthetic flippers so that he can continue to enjoy scuba diving, a sport he’s always loved.
When it comes to sports, there are many roadblocks for athletic amputees. Thankfully companies like TRS Inc. design prosthetic attachments that allow amputee athletes to participate in sports like baseball, basketball, archery, and even surfing! Here’s a demonstration of their billiards attachment in use:
In Fashion & the Arts
While athlete amputees dare us to change the way we think of disability, some artists and fashion designers have chosen to use their prostheses as a conduit for self-expression.
Lisa Bufano has no legs, but that doesn’t keep her from running on high-tech carbon fiber “blades,” dancing in bright red stilts (fashioned from Queen Anne-style table legs), or performing on stage. Bufano creates beautiful, alien-like characters for the stage with her table leg stilts. Take a look:
Aimee Mullins is a world class athlete and fashion model who is best known for wearing incredibly ornate wooden legs carved from solid ash and designed by legendary fashion designer Alexander McQueen. Mullins helped pave the way for models with a range of disabilities. You may remember her from her popular TED Talk, “My 12 pairs of legs.”
Victoria Modesta is a self-described “bionic artist” with a set of legs you won’t forget! There’s a set that lights up, one encrusted with jewels, another with a speaker, and more! Check out her music video “Prototype,” where you can see some of her beautiful legs in action (you’ll want to stay for the spike dance at the end).
A Step Ahead Prosthetics not only designs artificial limbs for a range of people with complex needs, they also have a program for modifying American Girl dolls to feature prostheses that are identical to those of young amputees. You may have seen one of their “unboxing” videos online. If not, grab the tissues and watch:
Kiera Rocha, chairperson for the charity Limb Power, wears different legs for different occasions. Her floral porcelain leg designed by Sophie de Oliveira Barata stands out as one that is truly beautiful to behold. Kiera says, “having a beautifully crafted limb designed for you makes you feel special and worthy.”
Losing a limb can be traumatic and life-altering but advances in prosthetic technology, combined with passion and creativity, ensure that amputations don’t cause people to lose their identity. On the contrary, these inspiring examples show that our ability to adapt, overcome, and reinvent ourselves in the face of adversity knows no bounds.