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Bionic leg offers warriors hope
3rd ID soldier among first with device
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3rd Infantry Division Spc. Michael Araujo shows off his new bionic leg. Araujo said the leg enables him to keep up with 3-year-old daughter, Malia. - photo by Denise Etheridge

Army Spc. Michael Araujo’s new bionic leg seems to help him move “better, faster, stronger” like Lee Majors’ heroic character in the iconic ’70s TV show “Six Million Dollar Man.”

“My 5-year-old nephew and my 3-year-old daughter, Malia, call it my ‘transformer’ leg,” Araujo said.

The soldier’s prosthetic limb has a state-of-the-art intuitive knee, which allows him to change speeds, walk up stairs, walk backwards, navigate obstacles and maneuver wet, rugged environments with greater efficiency, according to a news release from Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics of Savannah. The Genium knee was developed through a partnership with the U.S. military and Otto Beck Healthcare, Hanger prosthetist and orthotist Steve Miller said. The knee’s sensory system combines an accelerometer and a gyroscope and its battery life lasts five days, three days longer than other above-knee prosthesis, Miller explained.

“The way Steve (Miller) put it, it’s like walking in regular daylight,” Araujo said. Other prosthetic legs felt more like walking in the dark, the soldier said. Arajuo previously was fitted with two other types of prosthetic legs, a Rheo prosthetic knee and a C Leg.

In 2006, Otto Beck was approached by the military to develop a more durable prosthetic knee for wounded warriors, Miller said. The collaborative project was called the Military Amputee Research Program, Miller confirmed. He said Hanger conducts the clinical evaluation and testing for the Genium knee.

Miller fitted Araujo, 21, and former Savannah police officer Randy Thran, 48, with the new bionic prosthetic leg on June 30. The two men were among the first in the country to receive the intuitive knee, according to Hanger spokeswoman Krisita Burket.

Araujo, stationed at Fort Stewart, was injured by a roadside bomb Oct. 16, 2009, while deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, with the 293rd MPs. Due to his other injuries, Araujo also was fitted with a titanium jaw and had reconstructive surgery on his right foot. His left leg was amputated below the knee.

“We lost my squad leader,” he said. “And my buddy was badly injured. He (mainly) had major head injuries.”

Thran damaged his knee in 2001, when he was attempting to apprehend a violent suspect. The former cop had multiple surgeries and joint replacements in an attempt to repair his knee but eventually had to have his leg amputated.

Miller said he chose a career as a prosthetist to help injured soldiers and others, like Thran, “get back to normal limits” after losing a limb. Miller, who lost his leg to cancer at age 11, can relate to his patients’ desire to live normal lives.

Araujo said he felt comfortable having Miller fit him for prosthesis, since he also is an amputee.

“They know what you go through,” Araujo said.

Araujo said he plans to leave the service soon and head home to Florida and a job with Operation Open Arms. Araujo said he will be driving around military members when they’re on R&R.

“I’ll be helping other soldiers,” he said. Araujo said he doesn’t waste time feeling sorry for himself. He said he knew the risks when he joined the Army.

Miller said Araujo and Thran were “good candidates for the leg.”

“Both of them have an impressive gait for their level of amputation,” he said. Miller added their feedback on how well the Genium knee works is valuable, especially for future improvements. Miller described the bionic prosthetic as a “customized medical device” valued at around $95,000 each.

Miller said he often sees wounded warriors for secondary prosthesis and prosthesis maintenance.

“The types of injuries we see run the gamut,” he said. Miller said he’s fit prosthesis for missing digits, hands, arms and lower amputees above and below the knee and partial feet.

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