Canadian amputees get ground-breaking artificial legs in Australia
You would never be able to tell that Lori MacInnis walks with the help of a prosthesis.
But the resident of Prince Edward Island doesn't use a run-of-the-mill artificial leg. Her prosthesis utilizes an osseointegrated implant, the first of its kind planted inside a Canadian amputee.
The procedure involves the insertion of a titanium pole into the bones of the knee. A small piece is left to protrude through the skin and allows for the direct attachment of a prosthesis.
It was pioneered by Dr. Munjed Al Muderis, who fled Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s regime and was granted asylum in Australia.
Proponents of the implant say that it eases the pain and discomfort felt by the users of traditional strap-on artificial legs.
MacInnis,42, lost her left leg below the knee in a motorcycle accident five years ago.
She said that her old prosthesis caused her extreme discomfort and eventually she developed bone spurs. She later had surgery to try to help her fit into the socket.
Hoping to find a solution, MacInnis travelled to Australia in January and paid more than $95,000 to receive the operation and treatment.
Just a month later she says she was able to go cross-country skiing.
"It's just liberating. You know, I have a life back and my life is a lot more normal," she said.
Fellow Canadian Paul Tolaini, who now lives in Phoenix, Ariz., received the operation seven months ago.
He said the implant has improved his mobility and awareness of his prosthesis.
"My brain now treats it, and my body treats it, as part of me,” said Tolaini.
Tolaini added that he too feels that the implant has given him a renewed sense of freedom.
"For me to not be concerned about: 'How far am I going to have to walk to today? Do I have to try and get a parking spot closer? Can I fit in the back seat of the car? … It is a big, big, big difference," he said.
The first osseointegrated implant was performed 25 years ago, and nearly 500 procedures have been performed to date.
It is offered in clinics in Sweden, Germany, Holland, Australia and was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in July.
But the procedure has yet to gain approval in Canada and it is considered experimental.
In an effort to spread awareness about the implant, MacInnis made an appearance at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton, Alta., on Monday, along with Dr. Al Muderis.
Al Muderis said that results from the 180 operations performed by his clinic are promising.
"So far every single patient that we've treated is still walking with the integrated limb, and we’ve exchanged two implants only," he said.
Al Muderis emphasized that the implant opens new possibilities for amputees.
"With osseointegration they can walk 10 kilometres, some of my patients walk 20 kilometres, and they don’t think about it. They put the leg on it morning and they take it off when they go to bed," he said.
"The ground force is transmitted directly into their skeleton and it goes more naturally, and more anatomic, and that allows them … to walk comfortably without having to look at the ground and regain their ability to fee.”
Dr. Jacqueline Hebert, director of the adult amputee program at the Edmonton hospital, says the government needs to strongly consider making the procedure available to Canadians.
"This is something we need to look at seriously, to see if we should offer it to patients," she said.
With a report from CTV News' Medical Correspondent Avis Favaro and Senior Producer Elizabeth St. Philip