In 2007 Wolfang Rangger had a cerebral stroke. That stroke caused a blood clot in his left leg and as a result, the leg was amputated.
Since then he has been working with Professor Hubert Egger of the University of Linz. Egger, and other Austrian scientists, have made a huge breakthrough that will change the lives of amputees. They’ve created an artificial leg which allows the amputee to feel sensations from their amputated foot!
It seems like magic…but really it’s just six sensors which have been added to the sole of the “foot” on the prosthesis that simulate specific nerves at the base of the stump on the amputated limb. So every time the person takes a step, the foot sends signals to their brain.
But that’s skipping a step. First surgeons have to take remaining foot nerve endings and place them in the individuals thigh where the prosthesis can easily access them.
For the last six months Rangger has been trying out his new prosthesis. He’s able to run, cycle even climb! And when he moves, the limp is only slightly noticeable. When asked about the new prosthetic limb he responds:
“I feel the foot for sure. Not quite one hundred percent at the moment, but it gets better and better and that’s a very particular feeling. When I step on a stone…I feel it, which hasn’t been the case before. When I step on a piece of wood, I feel it. I’m constantly getting better at using it. (…)I was just happy to have a new foot. But I would never have imagined this was possible. It was through doctor Egger that I heard of this. Thank God he told me about it. Basically this is a second life for me. The first one ended when I lost my leg but I have my life back again and I’m happy about it.”
As if that’s not enough, another benefit of wearing the limb was discovered. Arguably one of the most beneficial findings is that the prosthetic limb, which allows the amputee to “feel” again, eliminates phantom pain! Rangger said within days of undergoing the operation, the pain completely disappeared. Phantom pain occurs when the brain searches for signals from a limb that no longer exists. With the prosthetic limb sending real data to the brain again, the frantic search for signals stops!
While it might not be magic, and Dr. Egger might not be a magician I’m sure we can all agree that his work is transformational.