Sandusky's Martha Thompson puts best (bionic) foot forward

SANDUSKY A delicate gold chain clinked against Martha Thompson's ankle as she peddled a stationary b
Sarah Weber
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

A delicate gold chain clinked against Martha Thompson's ankle as she peddled a stationary bike this week.

She calls it her "bling."

To her, it's a statement, shouting to the world, "I'm OK with being an amputee."

Especially now that she has a new, high-tech limb.

The 52-year-old Sandusky woman lost her left foot and ankle to a vascular disease in June 2005. Since then, she has worked hard to regain mobility. She exercises three times a week with the goal of getting strong enough to go back to work as a nurse.

But she realized that would never be possible with her old prosthetic weighing her down like an anchor, causing fatigue and instability.

So one year ago, she started doing research to see if new medical science could help her return to an active lifestyle.

"I felt I had reached maximum capacity," she said. "I couldn't get any stronger. I couldn't get any more stable."

That's when she found Proprio Foot -- a prosthetic with a brain.

The high-tech foot and ankle house a computer chip that tells them how to adjust to surfaces, providing stability to the wearer.

The food will also "kick off" and move like a natural foot. It was originally designed for soldiers who lost legs in the line of duty.

"This is almost natural walking, compared to walking with a broom stick," Thompson said.

With the new prosthetic, Thompson walks with only the slightest limp. She said even though it's two pounds heavier than her old prosthetic, the limb propels itself forward, making walking less exhausting. It provides enough stability to let her wear dress shoes with up to a 1 1/2 inch heel -- something unheard of with traditional prosthetics. And she lost some baggage.

"With my old leg I had to carry my cane all the time," she said.

Steve Sneider, a physical therapist at Sandusky Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine, said he has seen a big improvement in Thompson's mobility since she got the Proprio Foot.

"It's really much more efficient with more fluid motion," he said. "She's ecstatic."

He said in 15 years of physical therapy, he has never seen a prosthetic like this.

"It would be great if even a percentage of the people could get a prothesis of this caliber," he said.

Thompson is the only person in the area with this high-tech limb, and with good reason. Getting it was a year-long process.

She and her prosthetist, John Fabian, wrote letters to Thompson's insurance company asking them to approve the $25,000 limb. Thompson still doesn't know how much the insurance company will cover, but she said she is prepared to pick up the balance in order to keep the Proprio Foot.

She took the limb for a five-day "test drive" in October, suggested by the company to be sure patients are satisfied before they invest. She had a hard time giving it back. Her new prosthetic arrived just last week.

"I really want to educate people that this is out there, this technology," she said.

She plans to look for work soon.

"I'd like to go into rehab because I can help people by example," she said.