Fitness Prosthesis Opens up New World for Runner
January 2021 Issue
Matt Wise was 11 years old in 1989 when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in his lower left leg. After his physicians gave the family several options, Wise made the decision himself to have a transfemoral amputation.
"I decided the amputation was the best option for me to continue to be an active kid," says Wise. One of the first things he did after finishing chemotherapy, and as soon as he was physically able, was get back on his bike. "I didn't ask permission," he says. "I just decided I wanted to ride my bike."
Wise remembers his parents panicking because his bike was gone, and they didn't know where he was. "I don't think I was gone long," he says. "But they didn't see me, and they didn't know what to do."
When Wise returned home and saw the look on their faces, a mixture of joy and concern, he says he knew he was going to be okay.
When Wise was growing up in Brainerd, Minnesota, there were few people or places to turn to for help in learning how to live with an amputation, he says.
But learning to navigate that unfamiliar territory didn't stop him. "I learned a lot by trial and error, and I had great support from my parents and all of my friends," he says.
That also meant finding ways to continue to live life the way he had before. Wise played football through high school, and as an outdoor enthusiast, found ways to hunt and fish, which he continues to do today. "As a hunter and fisherman, I had to find ways to get in and out of small boats, through thick wooded areas, and sometimes deep snow," says Wise, who still lives in the North Star State. "To this day I'm still an avid kayak fisherman and still hunt every fall."
Wise's first prosthesis was a wooden leg. "Yes, it was 1989, people had color TV, Nintendo, and home computers were becoming the norm," he says. "But my first leg was just shy of being a pirate."
Wise says the wooden prosthesis, which was held on by a belt, was hard to manage. "I couldn't do much with that thing. It was mostly dead weight and swung at its own speed."
An Insurance Blessing
Wise and his family quickly learned their insurance company would only cover his first prosthesis. "They said that coverage was for life," he says. "I only weighed 57 or 58 pounds when I got my first prosthetic. I was skin and bones. It wasn't going to last too long."
Wise says it turned out to be a blessing in that it was then his family was introduced to Shriners Hospitals for Children. "From that point forward the technology really started to take off with hydraulic units," says Wise, who estimates many of the 20-plus devices he's had over the years have broken as a result of his active lifestyle. Currently, he uses an Ottobock X3 microprocessor knee to walk.
Wise has received much of his care from Tillges Technologies, Maplewood, Minnesota. Since he has had a prosthesis for most of his life, he is well versed in the trends and technology—and he has come to expect that same knowledge and expertise from his prosthetists. "I've worked with Tillges for quite a while now," he says. "I'm confident in the care I get, and that I can be direct [with the prosthetist] in what I like my prosthetic to do."
Cale Konetchy, CP/L, says that not only is Wise knowledgeable, he doesn't spend much time focused on himself. "Matt is a very positive, outgoing, and kind person who looks outwardly to consider the needs of others before considering his own needs," says Konetchy, who has worked with Wise for about a year. "We have an open treatment environment where our patients have the ability to interact with others. Whenever he's in the office, Matt tries to connect with and encourage people with limb loss and mobility challenges."
An Emerging Runner
In 2000, Wise started snowboarding and eventually learned to ski. He is now a volunteer adaptive ski instructor for people with disabilities, thanks to Wiggle Your Toes (WYT), a Minnesota-based nonprofit that helps individuals who have experienced limb loss. The organization sponsors events and contests and connects amputees with each other to share their stories.
Wise learned about WYT through another Tillges patient, Aaron Holm, the nonprofit's founder who has bilateral transfemoral amputations. "While getting to know each other's backgrounds, Matt mentioned he used to be an avid skier and it was his goal to try downhill skiing again," Holm says. "That's all we needed to hear. We made a few connections for Matt to attend an adaptive ski training camp, and he's been skiing ever since."
Despite being a natural athlete and excelling at many sports, the one activity that has eluded Wise most of his adult life has been the ability to run.
Before Wise started with Konetchy, he had worked with Wade Hallstrom, CPOA, for more than a decade. "When Matt started working with us, prosthetics were less advanced in design and only allowed for the user to walk at variable speed with significant deviation from the gait pattern we see in individuals with two sound limbs," Hallstrom says. "When they wanted to walk fast, they experienced significant heel rise, and when they walked slowly, they often risked stubbing their toe. Matt had to make a conscious effort to respond to the knee functions rather than have a knee that responds to him."
Running was possible for Wise, says Hallstrom, but not without significant risk of injuries and potential falls.
As a result, Wise didn't devote much time to running. His desire and enthusiasm to run was also dampened considerably several years ago when he decided to walk a 5K race with his wife and two children.
He came in last.
That did not sit well with him. "I'm too competitive and too headstrong to come in dead last," he says.
Wise is familiar with the technology associated with running prostheses, but he's never pursued the possibility of obtaining a device. He has always maintained the philosophy there may be others who will need the device more than him. That was until he participated in a WYT running clinic and contest last spring that was sponsored by Ottobock. The prize was an Ottobock 3S80 running knee and 1E91 Sprinter foot.
Wise says he didn't realize when he was first contacted by WYT that it was about winning the contest. "When they called me, I thought they were going to ask me to help as a volunteer at one of their events," says Wise, who often volunteers with WYT. "It was a big surprise."
Wise met Konetchy when he was being fitted for the running blade. "He knew the leg inside and out," Wise says. "And was able to give great direction on how to use it. I was literally off and running in minutes."
Holm says WYT is happy to be part of Wise's goal of staying healthy and physically active. "Whether it's skiing lessons or a running blade, it is allowing Matt to spend time being active, staying in shape physically and mentally. With the new device through WYT, he finally has a fitness prosthesis with the resilience that matches his own drive for the life he wants."
Wise is training and working on his conditioning skills as he prepares to compete in another 5K with his family, which he hopes to do once the pandemic is over.
Wise says his running prosthesis is light and responsive. "It's like having
a pogo stick underneath me. I'm active and don't have many limitations, but this is like nothing I've ever experienced. I've never been much of a runner since the legs I've had access to aren't runner friendly."
The running prosthesis has opened many new doors for him, Wise says. "This leg has allowed me to challenge myself in many ways. There's something about being able to run at your top speed that gives you confidence and really makes you feel free."
Betta Ferrendelli can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org