One of the most difficult injuries to recover from in any accident is the loss of a leg, arm, foot, or hand. Amputation injuries are usually due to car accidents, construction accidents, industrial accidents, and product defect accidents. The recovery process is harsh because injury victims lose function in part of their body, they experience incredible pain, and they suffer emotionally because people can see their injury.
According to the American Society of Medical Engineers, about 185,000 Americans require an amputation on a yearly basis. More than 2 million live with a limb loss. That number is expected to double by 2050 according to Amputee Coalition, a nonprofit.
There is some good news for amputees. There are continuing developments that are helping to change lives. Not everyone who has amputation is eligible for prosthesis because of the location and severity of the amputation. For the victims who can be fitted for an artificial limb, here are three new advances in prosthetic technology:
What are consciously controlled limbs?
Consciously controlled limbs are prosthetics where the victim can control the movement of prosthetic device. The victim “even experiences the sensation of touch.” According to a New England Journal of Medicine study, Swedish researchers analyzed seven patients who were “fitted with a mind-controlled prosthetic arm for up to seven years.” The device is called e-OPRA. It was developed by Integrum AB in Sweden. The device:
attaches the prosthetic arm to the bone in the stump of the amputated limb to provide mechanical stability in a process called osseointegration.
Electrodes are implanted in the muscles and nerves of the amputated arm, and a connector is embedded in the end of the screw for an electrical interface. Neuromuscular electrodes within the implant electrically interface with the sensors in the body to create a connection through Integrum’s control system placed in the prosthesis. Sensory input from the prosthesis is transmitted back to the person as it would from the missing limb.
The patient who uses this prosthetic device can just use their mind to control the movement of the prosthetic. There are sensors in the prosthetic thumb that allow force to be converted into electrical signals, which travel to the brain. The brain then interprets those signals are pressure.
Integrum is still in clinical trials for prosthetic arms, but the company plans on expanding their efforts to lower limbs, too. It also points out that its “e-OPRA device is compatible with any robotic prosthesis,” which means amputees don’t need to purchase new protheses for the device to work.
Prosthetics that use artificial intelligence (AI)
Another new system by Integrum uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to “allow amputees to move their prosthesis intuitively.” There are other AI systems being developed such as an AI system by COAPT, a Chicago company. Like Integrum’s e-OPRA device, COAPT’s system (the second generation version) uses sensors. The difference is that those sensors are used to capture signals from the brain, which then activate the control panel in the limb. The limb is activated and will move intuitively, just as it would in a human limb. “The system then stores user data to improve the movements as the user learns to operate the system.” As COAPT co-founder and CEO Blair Lock explained, the AI system works by “determining a pattern of myoelectric signals that corresponds with what the user wants the prosthesis to do.” The patterns differ depending on the type of movements involved. The AI software “tells the prosthesis to move according to the brain’s intentions.”
High-quality prosthetic devices can cost $10,000 or more. The COAPT AI system can double that cost. It will take a lot more users to reduce the cost of the COAPT system.
3D Printing is helping make better more cost effective prosthetics
3D printing is mostly used for simpler prosthetics, though it’s beginning to be used for more sophisticated prosthetics too. The BionicHand, for example, uses 3D printing to produce its protheses, which “capture myoelectric pulses for four basic hand movements.”
Though 3D printed limbs are not as advanced as the other systems, they have one massive benefit: cost. “According to the Amputee Coalition, a prosthetic hand can cost thousands of dollars; a standard myoelectric arm costs $10,000. A 3D-printed prosthesis can be had for as little as $50 because 3D-printed materials can reduce the price by up to 90 percent.” These less costly prosthetics are especially useful for children who grow out of their current prosthesis and for people in poorer countries. “At the upper [cost] end, 3D printing enables more custom, transparent designs for legs.”
Can I seek damages if I lose a limb in a crash or workplace accident?
Yes, you can. Amputation victims have the right to demand damages, from the responsible parties, for all their financial losses, medical expenses, physical pain, emotional trauma, scarring and disfigurement damages, and other applicable damages. Amputation victims usually need surgery to minimize the damage and, ideally, help the limb adjust to prosthetic devices. Amputees need to work with physical therapists and many other therapists including healthcare professionals who specialize in prosthetics.
All of this can cost money, and not all of it will be covered by insurance. Further, the loss of a limb can greatly reduce or even eliminate your ability to work or care for your loved ones. Because of this, you can file a personal injury claim in Oklahoma for damages if you suffer a life-altering injury like the loss of a body part.
At Cunningham & Mears, we understand how life-changing an amputation injury is. We work with your doctors and independent doctors to understand the various medical devices, treatments, and medications each amputee requires. We demand compensation for your pain and suffering, all your medical bills including the costs of current and future prostheses, your income loss, the disfigurement, and other damages. To discuss your accident claim with an experienced and respected Oklahoma City personal injury lawyer, call us at (405) 451-5146, or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation today. We handle accident cases on a contingency fee basis.
Ryan Y. Cunningham is a founding partner of Cunningham & Mears. Mr. Cunningham devotes his practice to protecting the rights of injured Oklahoma residents. In addition to assisting injured clients, Mr. Cunningham endeavors to improve personal injury representation by speaking on issues related to personal injury law to attorneys in continuing legal education courses and to law students. Learn More