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Health Beat: Prosthetics that never have to be removed

Published On: Dec 09 2013 11:12:06 AM EST   Updated On: Dec 09 2013 05:40:12 PM EST

Some 1.7 million Americans are living without an arm or leg.


Some 1.7 million Americans are living without an arm or leg. This year alone, 65,000 more will undergo an amputation. Now, a medical breakthrough could change their lives.

The show “Baghdad ER” shows the reality of war at a combat support hospital. Seeing that wartime reality firsthand, in a combat emergency room, inspired Dr. Ronald Hugate.

"For four months we just saw a lot of traumatic amputations," said Hugate, board certified orthopedic surgeon, Presbyterian/Saint Luke's Medical Center.


Hugate came home to help people like 16-year-old Woody Roseland, who lost his lower leg to cancer.

"Seeing patients like Woody, who are here and is a normal high school kid playing football that has a cancer that really motivates you to try and make things better," Hugate said.

Hugate's quest is to design a permanent prosthetic. So far, it has been a success on a dog, named Triumph.

"I can’t wait to see it change people’s lives," Roseland said.

In the University of Denver human dynamics lab, Roseland’s movements are caught on video with an infrared tracking system. Engineering students use the data to design a prosthetic that attaches to a post inside the remaining part of the leg. Skin grows into the trabecular metal lining.

"The implant is no longer fitting around the skin it is just snapping to the end of this prosthetic. So, it would improve the life of amputees exponentially," said Hugate, making this the first step into helping patients feel whole again.

The permanent prosthetic design could eliminate the current socket technology that can be painful and tiring. Hugate said he thinks a permanent prosthetic could restore function to nearly normal, especially for young active people. He expects it will take another three or four years before the permanent prosthetic is ready for people.

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DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Ronald Hugate about permanent prosthetics