Helping others all in a day’s work
For Murray Weight, day-today work means giving people a hand. Or an arm, or a leg. Mr Weight is a prosthetic technician at the Auckland Artificial Limb Centre, creating new limbs for patients.
And he’s got firsthand knowledge of what amputees go through, having lost his left leg below the knee in 1974.
“The best part of the job is when you get someone who thinks they will never walk again and you get them up walking and back into the workplace,” he says.
“There’s not too many professions where you can do that.”
The technicians can create limbs to suit a variety of sports, including swimming, mountain biking and skiing.
Mr Weight belongs to a 4WD club and skydives.
“A lot of people can get back to reasonably normal lives,” he says.
Fellow prosthetic technician Kent Perkins got to see firsthand the top sporting achievements of athletes with artificial limbs.
He went to the Paralympic Games in China this year, helping athletes with any repairs needed for their artificial limbs or wheelchairs.
Mr Perkins worked mostly with overseas athletes in a range of sports, including archery and table tennis.
“A lot of people I worked on had a real language barrier. It was interesting trying to work out what was required,” he says.
At times he had to employ some “number eight wire” ingenuity, using a bolt from a disabled toilet to repair a woman’s wheelchair.
He got to see Christchurch swimmer Sophie Pascoe win gold and Aucklander George Taamaru compete in the powerlifting.
“China did a great job of putting on the Games, the events were just amazing.”
Senior clinical prosthetist John Brookes deals with everything from missing fingers to whole leg and arm amputations.
“We do around 200 new limbs a year.”
The critical part of an artifi limb is making the socket that connects to the person, says Mr Brookes.
The centre runs two clinics a week, where patients see an orthopaedic surgeon, prosthetist and physiotherapist.
Once the patient is ready for the artificial limb to be made, they go through one of two processes depending on what suits their situation.
Either a cast for the socket is made using plaster and bandages, or the process is done on computer.
The clinical prosthetists use what is called a tracer CAD system, where a scan is taken of the patient’s residual limb.
The image comes up on a computer screen and the prosthetist is then able to design the socket using a computer programme.
“Once we are happy with the shape and measurements, it is emailed to Wellington to our central carver. It comes back as a foam mould,” he says.
Mr Brookes says the socket is designed to optimise weight-bearing areas of the residual limb and make sure it is comfortable for the wearer.
Once the mould is ready, a test socket is made by technicians before the final fibreglass model is created.
As far as the limbs themselves go, there are a range of different knee, ankle and foot options to suit the patient’s lifestyle.
The sockets can also be colourful and decorated with designs, like the silver fern sockets made for Paralympian Cameron Leslie.
For more information on the centre, go to www.nzalb. govt.nz.
New limbs: Prosthetic technician Kent Perkins, left, and senior clinical prosthetist John Brookes in a workshop at the Auckland Artificial Limb Centre.