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Special Report: Better prostheses for Arkansans

Too many American soldiers are returning from war without arms or legs. Our government is spending millions looking for new technologies to help these men and women walk again, and that research is already helping people right here in Arkansas.
Running, jumping and sliding would make anyone tired. But little league coach Robert Byrd doesn't worry about his energy wearing out, he worries about his prosthesis wearing out.

"There were times when you would fall, there were times when you would struggle," Byrd said.

1500 American servicemen and women from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are facing the same struggle. They've returned home without arms or legs.

"The recent wars that we've been involved in Afghanistan and Iraq produce a lot of government funding for research projects," Frank Snell, prostetist at Snell Laboratories said.

Research on our injured soldiers has produced better, more efficient artificial limbs coming out this Arkansas lab.
Byrd puts his prosthesis on every morning. 17 years of hopping, tripping and learning how to walk all over again.

"I've got so many errors in the way I've been walking on it," Byrd said.

He's never been to war - but his mobility is directly impacted by the progress made in these labs.

"Those older products, they would not withstand the activity level I was putting on them so I was at the doctor’s office quite often with a broken prosthesis," Byrd said.

"With the modern technology that's out there, they can lead such a much more active lifestyle than they did several years ago," Snell said.

Here at Snell Laboratories, they pump out 450 new limbs and replacements each year for veterans and civilians. With today's technology, you can be testing a new prosthetic device within one hour.

"I want to do everything that a person with just two normal legs can do," Byrd said.

And because of the research and the terrible consequences of war - he's getting there.

“It's just like walking normally,” Byrd said. “Foot over foot. I had no fear of falling."

Byrd's new 'c-leg' is constantly being upgraded and improved since the wars began. He can already feel a difference.

"The things today's technology provides for you…you can do so much more," Byrd said. "It feels really good walking. Real good."

The knee swings independently. He can program the leg for low or high-intensity.

"Energy is being released so the patient can actually run foot over foot," Snell said.

Of course - even the latest and greatest upgrades come a few setbacks.

"They didn't make them for going up," Byrd said.

Next, millions of dollars in government funding from the wars could develop a way for Robert to one day climb stairs.

"A knee joint that will allow somebody to ascend a flight of stairs foot over foot," Snell said.

And while Byrd waits for the final fitting, he'll play more ball.

"You can't use it as an excuse. Moving forward is part of you. You have to do that," Byrd said.

"There's no obstacle I can't overcome."

It's all one step at a time.

Right now, researchers are pinpointing the final details of a leg that will be able to bend upstairs and an ankle, mobile and powerful enough to push the leg forward without the patient using any effort.

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