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Millyard company says prosthetic advances will help bombing victims

MANCHESTER - Those who survived the Boston bomb blasts on Monday but lost one or more limbs have a long road to recovery, but with the help of modern prosthetics may still enjoy full mobility and motion, according to Matthew J. Albuquerque, president of Next Step Orthotics & Prosthetics, headquartered in the Manchester Millyard.

Some day, a runner who lost one or even two legs on Monday may finish the Boston Marathon on prosthetic limbs.

"I would love nothing better," Alburquerque said.

Albuquerque is founder and president of Next Step, and was featured in a March 3 New Hampshire Union Leader article on the work his company has done replacing human limbs with prosthetics crafted from titanium and plastic.

With satellite offices in Newton, Mass., and Warwick, R.I., Albuquerque anticipates being called upon to help many of the victims of the bombings. Some inquiries have already been made, he said.

Albuquerque and his team are not doctors, but are certified prosthetists - trained in the design, fabrication and fitting of artificial limbs. They work closely with vascular surgeons, physical therapists and the primary care physicians in the healing process for amputees.

The technology of prosthetics has come a long way in the past decade, providing options to victims of the Boston bombings that were not available after the 9/11 attacks. Manchester is in some ways at the epicenter of those developments.

The Queen City is also home to inventor Dean Kamen and Deka Research, now in the process of developing a prosthetic arm dubbed the Luke Arm, after Luke Skywalker of Star Wars fame.

DEKA is working with prosthetists from Next Step and a California firm, Biodesigns Inc., on the robotic arm, intended to restore full functionality for individuals with upper extremity amputations.

The multiple operations that have been alluded to in media reports are common in traumatic amputation, said Albuquerque. "They have to fix the problem in stages," he said.

The first step is to save the patient's life by stopping the bleeding from severed limbs. The patient may then need reconstruction of the bone and soft tissue, before the area is surgically prepared to accept a prosthesis.

As long as the victim hasn't experienced organ damage or other injuries from the blast, recovery can go very smoothly.

"I would say, barring injuries to other areas of the body, that people who have below-knee amputations could be walking on an initial prosthesis in six to eight weeks," he said. "The big variable, especially with shrapnel-type injuries, is how other areas of the body are affected."

Double amputee Oscar Pistorius changed the world's perception of prosthetics when he competed in the men's 400-meter race and in the 4x100-meter relay at the 2012 Summer Olympics by running on carbon fiber blades. At the 2012 Summer Paralympics, Pistorius won gold medals in both of those events, setting Paralympics world records. Both his legs were amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old.

Despite his February arrest for the murder of his girlfriend, Pistorius is still cited as an example of what is possible by Alburquerque and his staff.

"We now refer to him as the guy who shall remain nameless," he said, "but we point out that we have people missing two limbs in the Olympics now. If there is anything we promote as people who have delivered prosthetic care, it's the hope that is now out there because of techniques that weren't available as recently as 10 to 15 years ago."


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