This has been in the works for a while but I didn't want to post anything until I heard for certain. I initially was called in by the orthopedist in town who takes care of the leg brace I have now. They wanted my to come look at a possible new leg brace from a company called Otto Bock. They had me look at at the Sensor Walk, a stance control KAFO (Knee Ancle Foot Orthosis) which instead of wires to hold and release my knee uses a computerized knee joint.
You can watch the video to get a better idea of how it works. It uses a combination of a motor at the knee, signals from sensors underneath my foot, and a small computer which I have to carry in a pocket. I was told that the technology has been around for years, used in computerized artificial legs for amputees. It's only in the last 2 or 3 years that they've started using these in regular braces. This is truly state of the art machinery.
This was back in December and there was a great deal of uncertainty over whether I would even qualify for a new brace. For one thing my current brace was only 6 months old at the time. Plus with the brace I was using I was continuing to show improvement. We were worried that in the minds of an insurance company this would translate as "he's doing fine with what he has, so why should we shell out any money?"
What were the problems of my old brace? The stance control system that I am currently using uses a a set of wires that are strung from the ankle to the knee. It uses the tension of the wires to control when the knee is locked or unlocked. This can be problematic for several reasons: The biggest is that the knee has to be entirely straight in order for the knee to lock. If I didn't swing my leg out with precisely the right amount of force the leg will buckle. The wires are connected to the foot behind the ankle, causing the knee to unlock when the angle of the foot decreased i.e. when I'm stepping forward. This is highly useful because I don't have to bring my leg through with my knee locked out straight; it would lock again once I swung the leg straight. Unfortunately since when it locks or unlocks is based on the angle of my ankle, if I lean too far forward the leg would buckle (are you sensing a pattern here?). The brace was highly useful, allowing me some mobility for the first time, but it had many flaws. (See pictures here: http://theturtlewalks.blogspot.com/2011/01/boot-camp.html)
While it wasn't certain whether I would be approved or not, the vendor brought in a trial brace to see if the technology would work with my particular type of injury. Since it was made to fit practically anyone it didn't fit very well but the technology was amazing. It allowed me a sense of stability I had never really known. My old brace did give me mobility but I constantly had to be on guard in case of a sudden buckling (which happened fairly often).
It's been a few days now since the insurance company finally approved the brace. Today I went in to the Orthopedist's office and they made a fiberglass-caste of my leg, which will be sent off to make the custom-built brace. I don't know exactly how long it will take for me to the actual brace but it's coming. It's finally coming.