Help­ing oth­ers all in a day’s work

Auckland City Harbour News - - News - By Janie Smith

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.

Pho­tos: JA­SON OX­EN­HAM

New limbs: Pros­thetic tech­ni­cian Kent Perkins, left, and se­nior clin­i­cal pros­thetist John Brookes in a work­shop at the Auck­land Ar­ti­fi­cial Limb Cen­tre.

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