Thursday, August 19, 2010

Vietnam veteran receives state-of-the-art prosthetic

Photo by Joshua L. Wick
John Loosen, a Vietnam veteran, practices walking on his new state-of-the-art C-leg with Department of Veteran Affairs physical therapist Lindsay Martin in the Military Advanced Training Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center Wednesday. Loosen is the first Vietnam veteran to receive the newest version of the C-leg. Walter Reed and VA work together, sharing assets, personnel and research efforts, to provide the best care to veterans and wounded warriors, officials say
John Loosen became the first Vietnam veteran to receive the most-recent state-of-the-art C-leg prosthetic, thanks in part to a joint program between the Department of Veteran Affairs and Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The 61-year-old New York native tested out his new prosthetic in the Military Advanced Training Center at Walter Reed Wednesday, describing the C-leg as more advanced with more capabilities than his previous prosthetic.

According to its developer, Otto Bock, the C-leg is a knee-joint system that uses sensors to recognize the user’s gait phase, and adapts whether the user is walking slow or fast. The knee joint sensor measures the length and frequency of the user’s steps, and supplies the information required to control the swing phase. A microprocessor coordinates all measurement and control processes.

Loosen served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 as an airborne infantryman with the 101st Airborne Division. While on a mission in the Cu Chi District, Loosen was severely wounded in a Viet Cong Mortar attack. His left leg was amputated above the knee, in addition to other injuries he suffered. He was treated at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, Colo., which closed in 1999.

After rehabilitation, Loosen went back to school and decided to dedicate his career to serving those who serve the nation. He began working for the VA in 1975, and retired in January.

While at the VA, Loosen oversaw New York and New Jersey as chief of Veterans Integrated Service Network 3 Prosthetics and counseled other veterans about VA benefits, which he still does.

Loosen encourages wounded warriors and other veterans to take advantage of the services and programs the VA offers. He explained that although the system can at times be trying, the benefits are worth the effort in the long run.

This is why he chose to receive the new state-of-the-art C-leg.

He called the C-leg he most recently wore, ‘‘fairly archaic” in comparison to the new C-leg.

‘‘I’m very active, very busy and travel a lot,” Loosen said, explaining he hopes the new C-leg will enable him to have better mobility on various terrains and elevations, especially during one of his favorite activities, golfing. Loosen also bikes frequently.

Loosen, who just got his C-leg this week, said he is still getting use to it. The developer recommends each amputee use the C-leg for up to two months before the system can fully become accustomed to the individual’s unique gait.

‘‘There are a lot of different things that I’m learning to get use to all at once,” Loosen said. ‘‘It’s a little complicated but I can see it’s a tremendous improvement after only wearing for less than an hour.”

Loosen said he’s learning to walk better with a more natural gait with the new C-leg than with his old prosthetic. ‘‘It’s a lot easier [with the new C-leg], not meaning that I’m there yet, but I can definitely see an improvement.”

Dr. Joseph Miller, a certified prosthetist and the VA’s national director for orthotics and prosthetics services, emphasized the new C-leg will allow Loosen to have a more natural gait pattern for walking, ‘‘as well as performing more activities of daily living, such as shifting weight from one side to the prosthetic side. Traditionally, amputees will bear all of their weight on their good leg, and it begins to fatigue and tire. The new prostheses allow [amputees] to shift [their weight from one leg to the other].”

Miller explained that gait analysis looks at the amputee’s joint movements and ground reaction force as he or she walks. That data is analyzed to determine what areas need to be improved, and how to affect those changes through physical therapy or other means to help the amputee develop a more natural gait.

‘‘As the project moved it became a realization that maybe some of these outcomes and design [programs] would be beneficial for the VA population, which is a little bit older and more disease related versus the trauma,” said Miller, who worked at WRAMC as a prosthetist before going to the VA.

He added the Joint Incentive Fund of the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows a sharing of assets, including dollars, personnel and research efforts, enables the VA and Walter Reed to work together in providing the best prosthetic care to veterans. ‘‘This particular JIF allows physical therapists and prosthetists to co-treat veterans at Walter Reed as well as at the D.C. VA,” said Miller. ‘‘That’s the beauty of it, they are not necessarily assigned to one or the other, and we’re allowed to co-treat. Another nice part is the older veterans from previous conflicts can train here and see the younger veterans, which gives a sense of training more as a group, and they are able to be inspired by one another.”

Miller said Loosen feels the new technology is allowing him to reduce the time he spends on his good leg, which may help reduce some of his back pain.

‘‘He feels a little more confident in not only walking, but doing minimal things such as simple turning and twisting. This system allows him to be more stable in that, as well as improving his ability to walking on inclines.”