Retired master corporal Étienne Aubé’s golf swing won him a silver medal at the Invictus Games, an accomplishment the Canadian veteran credits to his state-of-the-art prosthetic leg.
The prosthesis reflects 20 years of technological progress. The microprocessor powering it instantly analyzes and responds as the user shifts their weight.
During Aubé’s second deployment in 2009 near Kandahar City in Afghanistan, he hit an improvised explosive device.
Aubé was 28 at the time with a wife and a young son and daughter. Doctors told him only five per cent of people with his type of trauma to the leg are able to walk.
“I was conscious [during] all the travel to the hospital in Kandahar, and I was talking to myself in the helicopter. And I said, ‘We’ll see now if you’re a real man, because your real combat begins now.'”
Aubé said that “everyone took the bomb with me.” Over the course of three surgical amputations, his family grew closer.
Surgeons removed the kneecap and tibia of his right leg. The prosthesis fits into a silicone sleeve on the leg.
Changing his mindset about his recovery, he became passionate about progressing on the golf course. The quiet greens complemented his rehabilitation with both physical and psychological boosts.
The military paid for Aubé’s eight-kilogram prosthetic device. The Ottobock X3 is a sophisticated, $100,000 model with a micro-processor aboard. Gyroscopes help situate it and calculate the speed of weight transfer between Aubé’s legs, allowing for fluid movements.
“It’s updated instantly, something like 300-400 times a second,” said Shane Glasford, a certified prosthetist at the Sunnybrook Centre for Independent Living in Toronto.
Glasford leads the custom-made prosthetics lab. Physicians, prosthetists, prosthetic technicians, occupational therapists and physiotherapists work together with patients who’ve lost limbs.
The majority of cases are geriatric, Glasford said. Diabetes and peripheral vascular disease are the main reasons for amputation. Trauma from motorcycle accidents and diseases such as cancer, including Terry Fox’s malignancy, also come into play. A small subset are children who were born without limbs.