Ok this has been a long freakin' time coming. I have been waiting and hoping to get my new brace since last November. We were introduced to the idea of an electronic leg brace by my orthotist. She had never seen this particular type of brace used before in person; she pounced on us practically the minute we walked in the door.
Come December she sets up a workshop with two reps from Otto Bock who wanted to get the word out about their products, specifically 3 different braces, all of which have computer control over the locking mechanisms of the knees. The one we went with was the Otto Bock 17B500 Sensor Walk, a cool combination of sensors, a motor, and pocket sized computer. They saw how excited I was at the thought of getting a new brace so they came came into town again. This time I got to try the one-size-fits-all model, made made to see if the technology would even work with my particular injury(every injury is unique so not everyone would be able to use this type of brace). This went phenomenally, so we the tug of war with insurance, getting practically everyone who was involved in my recovery to write letters stating how the brace was necessary. Much to my continuing excitement they did approve it eventually. The day after it was approved I went in and got a plaster caste made of my leg, which they shipped off to Minnesota to start production.
After weeks of waiting it was finally in, the object of my hopes and dreams. I went into the orthotist's office with really high hopes only to realize that it was the final fitting before the brace was laminated and finished. It was supposed to take only another week...
...two and a half weeks later we finally get the call. It's in for real this time.
It's sturdy as a rock and weighs just about as much. It's made of compressed polycarbonate (as my dad said “it's the thing Han Solo was encased in!”) around metal supports. It's got fewer straps than the other one, which simplifies putting it on to some degree. It's relatively comfortable with thick padding on the inside.
There's no doubt that it's an improvement over my old wire and hinge brace. The sensors feel when your weight is on the foot, at which point the knee locks. As soon as you lift up your foot it starts the motor which releases the knee lock, locking only after weight returns to the foot again. It's possible for the first time to lean forward and know that the knee isn't going to buckle suddenly, a frequent problem of my old brace. Only if I shift my weight off the heel will it will release the knee, requiring me to keep my foot planted at all times in order to stay standing. Even if the knee does buckle, if you shoot out your foot before you start going down the sensors will relock the knee again; this allows you to stay standing even if you stumble. It hasn't solved all the problems of the old brace but it has some very cool improvements.
Among the bag of tricks this brace has is stairs. I had been trained to do stairs with the other brace but it was always clunky at best, impossible at worst. I completely had to change the position of feet, my gait, and the number of steps I had to take (slowly doing one step at a time). With the new one I'm supposed to be able to go from step to step with each foot (i.e. how you would use stairs with two good legs). Here is the video of me very cautiously trying out this new skill... which wasn't the most graceful attempt ever. This is why I had several people there to catch me before I fell.
Some things will just have to come with time I guess.
The physical requirements of the brace are different but the harder task will be retraining my brain. My old brace required me to hurl my leg forward until I heard the loud click of the knee locking. Since the leg will stay locked even with the knee slightly bent this is unnecessary. The problem is that I've spent so many months listening for the click of the leg that I'm now trained to listen for that auditory cue. The new brace still clicks if you extend it all the way but I no longer need to; if I hear that click I've used too much force.
So now the journey continues with my new brace. I have to play with it, figuring out all its tricks and subtleties. This doesn't really make path any shorter but at least I have a new toy to play with along the way.