New Prosthetic Allows Amputees to Walk and Swim Without Changing Legs

New 3D-printed prosthetic design helps amputees stay active in the water.

Jan 11 2019, 12:53pm

One morning in September 2011, on one of Kevin Vaughan’s daily patrols during his second tour with the US Marines in Afghanistan, his patrol truck hit an IED (improvised explosive device). As he described it, the impact of the explosion shattered “every bone from the hip down” in his left leg, leaving him with the choice of limited mobility or getting it amputated. He chose amputation.

Since then, Vaughan has had to readjust his daily routines with the absence of a limb. Rapid advancements in the field of prosthetics are racing to meet the needs of amputees, who require different prosthetics depending on their activity. In Vaughan’s home he has upwards of 20 different prosthetics for various uses. “There’s something new every eight months,” Vaughan told Motherboard. “It’s ridiculous how fast they pump these things out.”

In a new documentary from Motherboard, we learn about a trial for a new prosthetic put on by Long Island-based Northwell Health to help amputees like Vaughan swim, with a 3D-printed design called “the fin.”

The fin remedies the need for amputees to have to change legs when entering and exiting the pool; it’s designed to be comfortable to walk in while not acting like an anchor in the water.

“We said, ‘How can we get all of this into one unit?’” said Todd Goldstein, the fin’s creator. “And that’s where the fin came from.”

For Vaughan, the fin transformed his experience in the pool, adding power and stability that he struggled with before.

“It’s like being a kid at Toys “R” Us,” Vaughan said. “There’s all these different legs on the shelves and you have to pick out the one that fits you best.”