PIERREPONT Lisa M. Mallette is a pretty tough cookie.
Still, when the 52-year-old tried on her new prosthetic legs for the first time, she couldnt stop the tears from flowing.
In November, Mrs. Mallette received a set of iWalk BiOM legs to replace the titanium prosthetics she had been using for several years.
Its like I have my real legs back, she said. It feels like I have my calf muscles back. I have mobility in my ankle and in my foot. They are just awesome.
Following complications from a 1999 car accident, both of her legs were amputated below the knee.
The BiOM is essentially a bionic ankle and foot device activated by 12 computer-programmed sensors. A battery attached to the limb must be recharged every four to five hours.
The prosthetics have been provided mostly to returning war veterans; the $173,000 price tag is more than many private insurance companies will pay.
Unlike a normal foot prosthetic thats essentially a spring, the BiOM is a machine packed with processors, gyroscopes and motors. It senses how fast the amputee wants to walk or run and then responds with appropriate force.
The difference has been remarkable for Mrs. Mallette, who refers to her former prosthetics as my Herman Munster legs.
Instead of having to swing her entire leg to walk, Mrs. Mallette said, the BiOMs propel her forward and require much less energy. Before, she was restricted to walking short distances, but now shes looking forward to running, horseback riding and other activities.
These move me; I dont move them, she said.
The improved mobility has made her workday easier. She is employed part time as a dental assistant at the United Cerebral Palsy dental clinic, Canton.
Mrs. Mallettes struggles started in 1999. While she was traveling home from work on Route 68, her vehicle was struck by a distracted driver. The accident left her with severe neck and back injuries that required surgery.
Her physicians believe the trauma also triggered a dormant neuromuscular disease: Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. As a result, she lost proper movement in her feet and then developed ulcers on her legs that wouldnt heal.
Mrs. Mallettes left leg below the knee was removed in 2000, followed by her right leg in 2003.
That was a very, very difficult time, she said. I felt like everything I knew was taken away from me.
She credits her daughter, Randi Rae DeShane, for helping her through the ordeal.
Without her, I would have given up. She has been a tremendous help to me, Mrs. Mallette said.
Mrs. Mallette said she became aware of the BiOM while watching the CBS Evening News on June 11. She became determined to obtain a pair and contacted Donald Holmes, owner of Northern Orthopedic Laboratory, Potsdam.
The two started researching BiOM. The device was developed by Hugh Herr, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who lost both of his legs in a mountain climbing accident 20 years ago.
Fortunately, Mrs. Mallettes husband, Thomas, has medical insurance through his New York state employment.
She said Empire Insurance agreed to cover a set of the iWalk BiOM legs and the rest fell into place.
Now she is trying to make other amputees aware of the BiOMs. She has been selected by the company to participate in an all-expense-paid conference in February in Orlando, Fla.
More people in the private sector are starting to get these, Mrs. Mallette said. I wouldnt give these up for the world.