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Innovative prosthetic leg propels wearers through water as if it were their real limb

northwell health swimming prosthetic

Photo by Northwell Health

Why it matters to you

Just because someone is missing a limb doesn't mean they are handicapped. With this new prosthetic leg, they are every bit as capable.

With modern advancements in prosthetic design, more people are able to continue walking despite missing one or two legs. These new limbs allow people to carry on, making it less of a disability and more of a unique quality. While designs mastered walking on land, moving through water remained a challenge. However, a new breakthrough from Northwell Health changed that, allowing a former Marine to not just simply wade in water but to efficiently swim in it, as well.

Northwell’s new project is essentially the first fully functional prosthetic swim leg. While this isn’t to say other legs won’t operate in water, it’s that they typically don’t add much of a benefit to the wearer — in other words, they tend to act more like an anchor. Instead, Northwell’s prosthetic actually propels users through water as if it were their original limb.

The new leg features a jet-black foot and a nonslip tread on its sole. Designer Todd Goldstein even crafted some components of the prosthetic using a 3D printer — for instance, one part of it is an upside down triangle of nylon and plastic located where the calf would be. This is what provides extra propulsion through the water, while cone-shaped holes allow some water to pass through so it doesn’t overpower the natural limb.

As mentioned above, Northwell tabbed former Marine Dan Lasko to put the limb through its paces.

“It feels good,” Lasko told the The New York Times after his first lap. “I can definitely feel the difference but I just have to get used to the bit of extra weight.”

Already, Goldstein has a few tweaks to make. During testing, the foot filled with water, creating an unfavorable amount of drag — Goldstein’s thinking is to add a series of holes to help release it. Additionally, the 3D-printed triangle fell off during testing, showing its need for a stronger adhesive in future models. Still, Lasko emerged from the tests pleased with the limb.

“I haven’t done that in years,” he said. “I felt good and free.”

Swimming is a beneficial exercise for many amputees. Higher impact exercises such as running or jumping lead to blisters or deeper tissue wounds but laps in a pool are gentle on the skin. According to Eric Feinstein, a manager at Northwell Ventures, the final prosthetic plans to become available in the next six months. The cost intends to range between $2,000 and $5,000, depending on specific client customization.