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Veteran amputees recovering at Salt Lake VA Hospital

(Nic Fitzgerald/KSL-TV, File photo)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Two veteran amputees of the war in Iraq are recovering from the first stage of life-changing surgery at the Salt Lake VA Hospital. The surgeons who performed the unique operation for prosthetics that attach to the bone said the first stage of the process went as expected.

In the process, a Percutaneous Osseointegrated Prosthesis was integrated with the bone for better efficiency in walking. But it's much too early for the doctors to call it a success.

A week ago, war veterans Bryant Jacobs of Herriman and Ed Salau of North Carolina met with KSL as they eagerly prepared for the operation.

"You have a rod sticking out of your femur, and your leg just hooks to that," Jacobs said. "So, it becomes more skeletal again, so more natural."

Monday, Dr. Erik Kubiak and Dr. Jay Agarwal embedded a titanium stem into the femur of each of the veterans' amputated legs.

"Things are going as planned," Dr. Agarwal said at a press conference Friday.

In the second stage, six to eight weeks from now, the doctors will attach the docking mechanism for the prosthesis, and snap in an artificial leg.

"This is just the beginning of a process that potentially makes this available to more people," said Dr. Kubiak.

It is the first part of a long process with many risks, he said.

"I don't think that Jay or I will feel like this was a successful event on Monday unless we see people functioning with their implant one, two, three ... eight, nine, or ten years down the line," he said.

"The hope is that we can reduce some necessary energy expenditure by the patient," said Dr. Agarwal.

Friday, the veterans endured skin sores and exhaustion from their prosthetics they attach with cement. The doctors compare it to wearing a very loose ski boot while skiing. The new prosthetic, attached to the skeleton, should be more snug.

"What we're trying to do is make the boot intimate to your body," said Dr. Kubiak.

This is all part of a VA-funded and FDA-approved Early Feasibility Study to initially assess the feasibility and the safety of this new implant. The surgeons, who practice for both VA and the University of Utah, will perform this surgery on up to 10 veterans over the proposed course of this study.

In six to eight weeks, the veterans should be ready to try on their new legs.

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Jed Boal


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