Healthcast: First of Its Kind Foot for Female Amputees

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There are nearly two million Americans living with limb loss and those numbers continue to grow as wounded servicemen and women return home. After losing a leg to an injury, or disease, it takes time to adjust to a prosthetic limb. Now, a team of engineers and medical experts is widening the options for women.

Twenty-one-year-old Alexandra Capellini is an active college senior. She’s in flats on the sloping campus walkways, but loves the look of high heels.

Capellini said, “Heels are what most of what women like to wear when you’re going out or even adjusting to seasons.”

Capellini lost her leg above the right knee to bone cancer at age seven. Adjusting her prosthetic limb is second nature.

Now Johns Hopkins University mechanical engineers and medical experts are designing a new foot for female amputees.

Joey Tilson, a mechanical engineering student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, explained, “The highest prosthetics go is zero to two inches. We wanted to make one that goes zero to four. One of the biggest challenges we faced was having to mimic the ball of the foot. Whenever you stand in a high heel condition it’s different than standing in a flat foot condition, so a lot of weight is shifted. The big toe is what keeps you from falling forward.”

The foot holds position with an ankle lever. The goal: a quick adjustment, so a woman could wear heels to a party and kick them off to dance.

Engineering professor Nathan Scott, Ph.D., said, “You don’t get out a screwdriver to adjust your feet usually when you adjust your shoes.”

Capellini loves the concept, but also the attention it brings to those living without limbs.

“I think the bigger picture is emphasizing options for female amputees,” said Capellini.

The prosthetic foot is made from a carbon fiber, and weighs about a pound and a half. The mechanical engineering students designed the foot, which they called “The Prominence” as part of their final senior project. Although it is in the early stages, the foot is believed to be the first that could adapt up to four inches in height.

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