Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Man Striding Ahead of Me

As I got off the ferry the other morning on the Staten Island side, I was startled by the sight of a tall man rapidly striding ahead of me who seemed to be missing most of his left leg. He wore one of those remarkable prosthetics that allowed him to walk with a normal gait without any signs of strain or jerkiness. I quickly noted that although the architecture of the limb appended to his thigh was radically different from an ordinary leg - with its long, thin metallic stem - the mechanics of it - how it moved, bent, and sprung from the floor - appeared to duplicate the action of an actual leg with striking precision. What a marvel! The result, no doubt, of years of close study and computer modeling of the movement of the human leg, followed by painstaking efforts to reproduce that movement, with still more experimentation of how to attach that leg comfortably and naturally.

I'd like to think that those who devoted their lives to developing such a technology did it for all the usual reasons - to make a living, to apply well honed skills, to work hard on something interesting, to pursue a dream, to make a difference. But in this case what a direct and transforming difference it makes to the person who has lost that leg and now has restored to him or her this capacity to ambulate, a capacity I give thanks for almost every day. For me, there are few things as exhilarating as taking a walk. To be able to do this after suffering such a terrible injury is a great gift and reminds me what a wonderful world we live in.


  1. Prosthetic limbs are a marvel and often restore their users to near normal activity. But it ain't cheap or easy. An above-the-knee leg prosthesis can cost $15,000 or more. Maintenance and regular repairs can be in the $1000's per year. There's a significant learning curve and need for Occupational Therapy. As with so many modern medical marvels, the 'rationing' is at the front end. Your need and potential benefit are secondary to your ability to pay.