UPMC event focuses on prosthetic leg technology advancements
By Rachel Weaver
Published: Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, 8:52 p.m.
Rebecca Levenberg of Philadelphia hopped on her bicycle and headed to her job as a teacher on a chilly fall day two years ago.
She never got there.
A garbage truck traveling next to her turned into her bike lane, running over her and severely injuring her leg, breaking several ribs and collapsing a lung. Doctors saved Levenberg's life but had to amputate her left leg.
Nearly two years after the Nov. 9, 2010, accident, Levenberg, 43, is on a mission to walk 1,000 miles by year's end. She's logged about 770 and is learning to run and bicycle — even inline skate — again.
“Those were all parts of my life before the accident,” Levenberg said.
Prosthetic leg technology advancements that helped Levenberg and other above-knee amputees will be the focus of a free event on Nov. 13 in UPMC Mercy's Clark Auditorium.
Various computer-controlled legs will be demonstrated, including the Genium Bionic Prosthetic System, a civilian version of a leg developed in collaboration with the military for injured service members, which Levenberg uses.
“It works with my body better,” she said. “It doesn't feel heavy. It adjusts quickly to uneven ground and cracks.”
The Genium, developed by the Minneapolis-based company Ottobock, has been on the market for a year. It uses an accelerometer and gyroscope to detect the position of a person's leg, similar to technology used in Wii gaming systems, allowing wearers to move safely and efficiently.
Byron Backus, a certified prosthetist with Ottobock who will speak at the local event, said most people rarely think about their movements, but for people with prosthetics, walking is like driving during a snowstorm.
“It's snowing. It's blowing everywhere. How much are you concentrating on your driving? That's what it's like for your average amputee. They are thinking about every step they take,” he said.
Genium's technology helps change that, he said.
“Mentally, it frees them up immensely,” he said. “It knows where it is in relation to gravity. It knows if you're moving forward or backward.”
The technology is based on sensors analyzing points in the knee and ankle 100 times a second. By gathering information on the wearer's gait and pressure, a microprocessor controls a hydraulic cylinder, making the knee more stiff when necessary and more free-moving at other times, “just like our own knees,” Backus said.
It can rapidly change direction and remain stable. It allows wearers to step over obstacles in a more natural motion.
Those features helped Levenberg last week when Hurricane Sandy blew through Philadelphia and she needed to walk to the store for supplies.
“My balance was off a little because of the wind, but it would have been even worse if I had a different prosthetic,” she said.
Ali McWeeny, 24, of Ellensburg, Wash., lost her left leg above the knee in a July 2009 boating accident in which both her legs became trapped in the propeller. A track and field athlete, power lifter, coach and physical education teacher, McWeeny said the Genium is the best prosthetic she's found.
“It's the closest thing that's been able to allow me to do the things I do every day,” she said.
McWeeny, who also will be in Pittsburgh for the Nov. 13 event, had to save her life by tying tourniquets around her legs as she waited the five hours it took to get to the hospital. She'd lost 60 percent of her blood by the time she arrived.
When she awoke with her leg amputated, doctors told her she'd have to change her hobbies. McWeeny, who's played sports since age 4, knew otherwise.
“I said, ‘That's not going to happen,' ” she said. “I'm far too dedicated.”
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Garden Q&A: Firecracker vine OK for trellis?
- Starkey: Penguins’ arrogance astounding
- Matt Calvert’s goal in double OT evens series for Blue Jackets
- Second-period short-handed goal gives Blue Jackets momentum
- Real estate notes: Work on expansion to Pediatric Specialty Hospital to begin
- Shaler track star Schwartz in class of her own
- Tax law proves its worth by bringing in lost revenue
- Draftees’ longevity key for NFL success
- Penguins’ Gibbons scores twice but leaves with apparent injury
- Saturday essay: Resurrection
- Mail for IRS delivered to Squirrel Hill home