Remember the 1970’s series The Six Million dollar Man? Pure science fiction back then, but with more severly wounded soldiers in Afghanistan than in any previous war, new technology is needed to treat them. In a case where a Canadian soldier lost his whole right side including hip and full leg, the makings of a miracle is unfolding and he hopes to become a full-time soldier again. It brings the cry ONE VETERAN, ONE STANDARD to the forefront. All veterans deserve the best treatment Canada can provide for them.
Here is the story of Cpl. Andrew Krisley in the “Vancouver Sun,” posted August 8, 2011 by reporter Andrew Duffy. We cheer on Andrew for his forebearance and determination and await the day to see him as a combat-ready soldier again. BONNIE
Cpl. Andrew Knisley has known his share of frustration with the artificial leg he’s worn for the past two years.
The prosthetic limb, which straps to his pelvis, does not allow him to easily navigate stairs or uneven terrain. Last week, for instance, his knee unexpectedly gave out as he walked across a beach on the Ottawa River.
“I went down like a sack of potatoes,” says Knisley, 27, whose right leg was destroyed by a bomb in Afghanistan.
But recently at the Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre, Knisley received a new prosthetic limb, the X2, that he hopes will significantly improve his mobility. Knisley is the third Canadian soldier to be fitted with the device, which represents the latest in artificial knee technology.
The X2 comes loaded with high-tech gear: microprocessors, sensors, a gyroscope and an accelerometer. The equipment measures and responds instantly to the force applied to the limb.
The electronically controlled knee has allowed other users to run, climb stairs, walk backwards, even cycle – activities that were virtually impossible with earlier, less-flexible prosthetic knees.
Since Knisley is missing three major weight-bearing joints – his hip, knee and ankle – walking with a prosthetic is complicated and exhausting. He must propel his artificial leg with his trunk muscles.
Knisley doesn’t know yet what he will be able to do with his new high-tech knee, but he hopes it will bring him closer to meeting the demands of the battle fitness test. He now works in casualty management at CFB Petawawa and must pass the fitness test sometime in the next two years in order to stay in the Canadian Forces.
Among other things, the test requires soldiers to complete a 13-kilometre march with a 24.5-kilogram rucksack in a time of two hours and 26 minutes.
“I’m proud to be in the military,” says Knisley, who was born in London, Ont. “I don’t want to sit at home. I want to be active.”
FINE-TUNING THE X2 FIT
The X2 should help. It is lighter, stronger and more durable than other prosthetic knees with a battery that lasts up to five days.
Rehab centre prosthetist Dave Nielen and Otto Bock representative Gary Sjonnesen worked for two days to fine-tune the X2 to Knisley’s height, weight and walking style.
Using a computer connected by Bluetooth to the knee’s microprocessors, they programmed the X2 to work in concert with Knisley’s artificial hip joint.
The X2 has seven sensors that feed information to the device’s on-board computer, which can make up to 100 adjustments per second. The computer can sense, for instance, that a user is walking downhill and can produce the necessary resistance based on how much force is applied with each step.
“It’s promising,” announces Knisley after taking the X2 for a test-walk down the halls of the rehab centre.
Sjonnesen says the device removes the need for amputees to think about every step. “When you or I hit a bump in the road, we automatically adjust. This knee will do that now,” says Sjonnesen, Otto Bock’s director of professional and clinical services.
Nielen says today’s prosthetic limbs are light-years ahead of what was available a decade ago. Advances, including the X2, have been driven by an injection of research funding from the U.S. as it responds to an influx of amputees from its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“He [Knisley] is wearing a computer that’s probably 50 times more powerful than the one that took Apollo to the moon,” says Nielen.
The X2 could help dozens, possibly hundreds, of Canadian soldiers and veterans. According to the federal government, 615 Canadian soldiers were wounded during combat operations in Afghanistan.
Canada’s combat role in Afghanistan, which began in April 2002, came to an end this July.
Cpl. Knisley’s war ended on Jan. 19, 2009, during a foot patrol in the Panjwaii district of southern Afghanistan.
Knisley was then a member of a small, specialized unit that provided on-the-job training to the Afghan National Police in the town of Bazar-e-Panjwaii.
Knisley was five months into his tour of duty and 20 minutes into a two-hour patrol – the eighth man in a line of 12 – when a remotely triggered bomb exploded beside him.
The blast threw Knisley into the air. He landed face down and confused: it felt, he says, like another soldier had bodychecked him hard from behind. When he turned and saw his fellow soldiers readying for a gun battle, Knisley reached for the pistol strapped to his right leg. It was then that he realized he’d been hit: there was blood on his sleeve. He tried to scramble to his feet but couldn’t get his legs beneath him. He looked down and saw blood pouring from his shattered right leg.
Recognizing that his femoral artery had been cut, and that he would bleed to death in minutes, Knisley called for help: ‘Man down! Man down!’ Two soldiers applied battlefield tourniquets to his wound, which would require the amputation of his right leg at the hip.
In hospital, Knisley’s condition stabilized quickly. He entered the Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre only one month after the incident.
The most difficult part of rehab was getting used to wearing the prosthetic leg. “It’s not natural, it’s incredibly uncomfortable.”
For a long time, he couldn’t wear the device for more than half an hour because of the pain. But he persevered, learning to walk and to drive a car.
“You just want to blend in, you just want to be normal,” he says.
He desperately wants to continue his military career: “My plan is to find something meaningful to do within the military, which should not be difficult. I have a lot of experience; I’m a smart guy. I pick things up quickly. It’s only the physical limitations that might hold me back.”