Prosthetics tech gap costs money and lives according to report

Four years ago, Denise Martone was involved in a crash in which she lost her leg and was initially given a mechanical knee.

“My husband went in for a triple bypass surgery in New York City and I was going to go visit him, and as I was crossing the street I got struck by a cement truck. I was dragged like that 100 feet and when I came to I turned around and saw my leg behind me,” said Martone. “I had a regular knee that didn’t do nothing and I had to either manually kick it or manually try to sit down. It wouldn’t go down automatically.”

Martone says she had more of a tendency to fall and didn’t feel secure enough to be active. James Smetana, who lost his leg in a motorcycle crash, agrees a mechanical knee requires more focus to get around.

“It just seemed so strange that it would swing out so fast because there was no resistance. It wasn’t fun walking,” he said.

A new study by the RAND Corporation found mechanical knees are more dangerous than the newer, computerized technology known as microprocessor knees, or MPK.

According to the study, there were three deaths as a result of falling with a micro-processor knee, but 14 deaths with mechanical knees, about a 350 percent greater risk.

“Some insurance companies, their medical policy says they’re not going to pay for any kind of microprocessor technology. Or I have had some companies say it’s experimental, even though it’s been out for 20 years already,” said Eric Schwelke, director of Kessler O&P Services.

For the first time, though, Schwelke says this study supports with evidence what they’ve been seeing all along. Even though it cost more money up front, in the long run, you’ll end up paying more if you use a mechanical knee because of direct and indirect health care costs related to falls and physical therapy.

“This is what the technology should be. When you provide the old style, you’re really just keeping them back. You’re holding them back and forcing them to stay in their home and be scared,” said Michael Moschella, a prosthetist at Next Step Orthotics & Prosthetics.

Audrey Hawley, a patient of Moschella’s, told NJTV News she lost her leg to cancer, but with this technology she can stay active, and she does.

“There is life beyond an amputation. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be sitting in a wheelchair for the rest of your life,” said Hawley.

Everyone NJTV News spoke with gave the same answer.