Amputee Breaks Record by Rowing Across the Atlantic in 60 Days

Based on the reporting of Hilary Brueck for Business Insider

Five years ago, Lee Spencer, a former Royal Marine, stopped on a highway to help people in an accident on the side of the road. But while he assisted, Spencer was hit by an oncoming engine and sustained injuries which called for his right leg to be amputated.

Lee Spencer spent 24 years in the British Military, serving three tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. He had always taken pride in his physical strength, but after his devastating accident, Spencer thought he would have to redefine himself. However, he came to recognize that disabled people cannot be defined by their disability. This newfound awareness encouraged Spencer’s interest in rowing.  “I thought if I can beat an able-bodied record as a disabled man, at something as physically demanding as rowing an ocean, it’ll be a real positive statement that no one should be defined by disability.”

After years of training, Spencer embarked from Portugal in a rowboat designed for a single passenger. He was prepared for a 90 day, 3,800 mile journey with a desalination machine to make drinkable water and high-energy rations to eat.  He was also fitted with a prosthetic leg designed specifically for rowing. This leg had an ankle joint which could withstand a lot of sitting and pushing.

Although Spencer recalls seeing remarkable marine life on his trip, he notes that it was difficult having no humans around, especially when his situation became dangerous.  He recalls feeling on high alert all the time, saying, “You’re constantly worrying about where you are, what’s happening around you.”

After 60 grueling days at sea, Lee Spencer arrived on the shores of French Guiana. His face was red from the sun and he had lost 42 pounds, but he smashed the previous trans-Atlantic rowing record for his route by 36 days. Spencer believes his accomplishment proves that people cannot be defined by their disabilities.


Advancements Lead to More Seamlessly Connected Prosthetics

Based on the reporting of Nick Stoico for the Concord Monitor

One of the biggest challenges amputees face is how disconnected and unnatural prosthetic limbs can feel. One of the over 2 million people in the United States who struggled with this problem is Junius Moore. Moore had his left arm amputated above the elbow after a car crash in 2016. This amputation was devastating to Moore, as he was fearful it would interfere with his work as a restaurant owner.

But Moore was reassured tasks would be easier with the LUKE arm, a newly developed thought controlled prosthetic. Thought control, although associated with difficult learning process, can make artificial limbs seem more “connected” to the amputee’s actions.  Modern prosthetics are being innovated to allow more integration, and Moore’s case was an important step in this process.

Amputees can now Feel Through Their Prosthetics with the Help of Fingertip Sensors

Based on the reporting of Josh Rhoten, University of Colorado at Boulder, on

Modern-day prosthetics are very helpful to amputees. They are tools that help them perform everyday tasks and activities. However, often these prosthetics are mere attachments, rather than integrated to the body like real limbs. This circumstance creates the challenge of making a prosthetic that is just as capable as the part it replaces.

Jacob Segil received a $200,000 contract from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for a project he is leading at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Here, engineers are working to improve hand prosthetics by enhancing the sense of touch through fingertip sensors which nerve interfaces to allow patients to feel tactile sensations. With the help of these sensors, amputees can have better control of their prosthetic, helping the prosthetic to feel less detached, and  more like their own body. These touch sensors are the missing link in the connection between the brain, the nervous system, and the prosthesis of the patient.

Segil argues that the most important part of a prosthesis is its psychological integration with the patient, as this will lead improve the amputee’s livelihood and experience. When hand prosthetics are built with fingertip sensors, psychological integration can become a new and beneficial reality for amputees.

Researcher Uses Virtual Reality to Reduce Phantom Limb Pain

Based on Dr. Rui Loureiro’s article, “Free Radical,” in Portico, the magazine of University College London (UCL), December 2018.

Dr. Rui Loureiro of the Department of Materials and Tissue at UCL has discovered that virtual reality can be used to reduce phantom limb pain. Instead of managing pain by reminding the body that the  limb had been removed like most phantom limb treatments, this alternative approach seeks to reduce pain by tricking the brain into thinking the limb is still there.

Phantom limb pain is a common and serious problem among amputees. Pain can reach chronic levels, potentially disabling amputees from using prosthetic replacements. However, this virtual reality treatment helps to stop this neuropathic pain. When patients use virtual reality, they can control virtual limbs with their own muscles. This sends the brain both visual and neural feedback, so lost neural pathways can be rebuilt.

Dr. Loureiro believes this new treatment can change lives. During trials, patients’ pain levels were reduced by 68% after just 11 therapy sessions. While lifelong pain management treatment has an estimated cost of over $600,000, the prosthetic used for the virtual reality sessions costs only $4,500. A lower cost means more patients can be treated.

This breakthrough in phantom limb pain treatment could help many amputees in a in a drug-free and less expensive way.


Given Limb Works with the Center for the Intrepid

On the plaque in front of the Intrepid mosaic there is a quote:

“To be resolutely fearless, bold, unafraid.”

This six-word sentence is emblematic of the courageous military personnel at the Center for the Intrepid at the Brooke Army Medical Center, a state of the art rehab facility in San Antonio.



Center for the Intrepid Gait Assessment Lab:

20% of injured military return to their units. To be eligible, they must prove they can handle uneven surfaces (gravel, sand) and steep slopes.




Intrepid Driving Lab:

In the Intrepid Driving Lab, patients are given the chance to to try different vehicle adaptations and are exposed to various driving scenarios on the screen. Many of the injured are not amputees, but have brain injuries and/or PTSD. This lab is a safe setting for driving assessment before road training.



Center for the Intrepid Pool:

The Given Limb helped USA Paratriathlon run their first training program here.





Center for the Intrepid Pool:

Paratriathlon training, started here by the Given Limb, is not just about competition, but about developing lifelong healthy exercise habits, which are proven to help with depression, PTSD, and other post-war issues.



Center for the Intrepid Occupational Therapy:

The OT lab area (left) is much the same as any other facility, but there is also a mockup of an apartment (right) where patients can practice cooking, cleaning, reaching items on shelves, etc.


Given Limb Fundraiser a Smashing Success

On November 8, 2017, the Given Limb Foundation held a fundraiser in New York City in honor of Veterans Day. The event gave an overview of the Given Limb Foundation to the hundred people in attendance.The night was filled with good food and great company but, by far the highlight of the evening was an inspirational speech given by Paralympian and veteran Melissa Stockwell. Ms. Stockwell gave an incredibly moving speech on her own story- from losing her leg in Iraq, to becoming a 3x world champion and Paralympic bronze medalist in paratriathlon, to co-founding Dare2Tri paratriathlon club. Every person in that room was deeply inspired.


Thank you to Melissa Stockwell and to all the veterans that have served our country!

New Prosthetic Changes Swimming

SWIMBased on the reporting of Catherine Saint Louis of the New York Times:

In 2004, former Marine Dan Lasko tragically lost his left leg in an explosion in Afghanistan. But that hasn’t stopped Lasko; he’s been a dedicated triathlete ever since. But he’s never had a durable leg that could match the strength of his right leg until now. The new leg Lasko would be testing, “had a jet-black foot with a nonslip tread on its sole, which he described as “awesome” even before entering the water.”  His excitement was, “palpable from the first whiff of chlorine.”.

Waterproof prosthetics have existed for decades but none have been as functional or effective as this new prosthetic. The designer, Todd Goldstein, “was enlisted for the project in part because of his experience with 3-D printing. On a Friday night before the swim test, he programmed a 3-D printer to make a crucial part of the prosthesis: a downward-pointing triangle of nylon and plastic located at calf height that provides some propulsion but, with cone-shaped holes that lets some water through, is not overly forceful.”

The cost of the prosthetic will eventually range from 2,000 to 5,000 dollars. However, amputees will most likely have to pay out of pocket, “Most insurance companies don’t provide coverage for recreational prostheses, Dr. Crandell (the medical director of the amputee program at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston) said, ‘even though ultimately getting back to sports is best physically and for psychological recovery.’ ”


This new breakthrough in the field of recreational prosthetics could be revolutionary for thousands of amputees for years to come.

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World’s First Thought Controlled Prosthetic

mind controlled prosthetic

Bionic arms controlled by a patient’s thoughts are a radical improvement on existing artificial arms, according to researchers. Existing prosthetic arms rely on a patient twitching the muscles in the stump of their damaged arms. But because the muscle is damaged, an amputee may only be able to carry out limited movements, such as one or two grasping actions.The limited range of movements is a reason why up to 50 per cent of amputees abandon their electronic arms at present.

But by linking the nerves from the spine into an intact piece of muscle, either in the patient’s chest or biceps, patients were able to carry out a much wider repertoire of movements.These included opening and closing the hand, rotating the wrist and moving the arms up and down. To control the new prosthetic, the patient simply has to think like they are controlling a phantom arm. By imagining the desired action, such as pinching two fingers together, the signal is carried by the nerves to the muscle. Electronic sensors on the skin surface pick up the signals, which then control the robotic arm. Ultimately it is hoped that more commands could be programmed into the robotic prosthetic, allowing more actions.

Dr Dario Farina, now based at Imperial College London, and colleagues in Europe, Canada and US led the research. He said yesterday: ‘When an arm is amputated the nerve fibres and muscles are also severed, which means that it is very difficult to get meaningful signals from them to operate a prosthetic. ‘We’ve tried a new approach, moving the focus from muscles to the nervous system. ‘This means that our technology can detect and decode signals more clearly, opening up the possibility of robotic prosthetics that could be far more intuitive and useful for patients. It is a very exciting time to be in this field of research.’

The researchers carried out lab-based experiments with six volunteers at the University of Vienna, who were either amputees from the shoulder down or just above the elbow. After physiotherapy training, the amputees were able to make a more extensive range of movements than would be possible using a classic muscle-controlled robotic prosthetic. They came to this conclusion by comparing their research to previous studies on muscle-controlled robotic prosthetics.

While improvements are expected, the authors hope to have the prosthesis on the market in the next three years. A variety of ‘bionic arms’ are being tested by researchers. While an alternative approach is using brain implants, the advantage of using a nerve from the spine is that the approach is compatible with existing prosthetic arms – and no wires need to be inserted into the brain to control the device.

Read more here

New Option for Female Amputees

Nearly 2 million Americans have had an arm or leg amputated, and those numbers continue to grow as wounded servicemen and women return home. It takes time to adjust to a prosthetic limb. But 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. As she sees it, “most of what women like to wear when you’re going out or even adjusting to seasons.” Alexandra lost her leg above the right knee to bone cancer at age seven. Adjusting her prosthetic limb is second nature.
Now mechanical engineers and medical experts are designing a new foot for female amputees. “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,” explained Joey Tilson a mechanical engineering student at John Hopkins University
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. “You don’t get out a screwdriver to adjust your feet usually when you adjust your shoes,” said  Nathan Scott, Ph.D.,  also a mechanical engineering student at Johns Hopkins University. Alexandra 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,” she said.
The prosthetic foot is made from a carbon fiber, and weighs about a pound and a half. The mechanical engineering students designed it as part of their final senior project. It’s in the early stages, but it may be able to adapt up to four inches in height.
Read more here

High School Team Supports Given Limb

ryehighschoolvolleyballIn 2016, the Rye High School Volleyball Team raised money for the Given Limb by setting up a donations table at their home games.  Team member Kaitlyn Rentala was instrumental in organizing the donations table and has gone on to help the foundation in other ways, such as helping to keep this website up to date!