May 3, 2004
Mississippi amputee, prosthetist biking 2,800 miles across Europe
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—Ever since a car accident took half his left leg at age 17, Brad Kennedy has refused to be defined by his loss. So when Kennedy was asked if he wanted to try biking 2,200 miles across Europe, his response was: Bring it on.
On April 30, the 28-year-old prosthetist for Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson joined amputees Mitch Reinitz of Seattle, Wash. and Dan Sherer of Wilmington, N.C. on a 10-country trek from Glasgow, Scotland to Athens, Greece.
The trip is sponsored Otto Bock HealthCare, the international manufacturer of Kennedy’s C-Leg, a state-of-the-art computerized artificial limb.
“We chose Brad for the trip because of his unique combination of compassion, dedication, and personal experience,” said Otto Bock spokesperson Karen Lindquist. “He can expertly describe the technical details of the C-Leg to a medical expert, or he can reach out to a young child who is just adjusting to using a prosthesis. Brad's commitment to helping others is inspiring.”
Kennedy insists that he’s the one who is being inspired. As part of a recent 360-mile, “team-building” cycling trip from Edenton, N.C. to Washington D.C., Kennedy spent an emotional afternoon with U.S. soldiers who have lost limbs in the Iraqi War.
“We went to lift their spirits and make them feel better and they made me feel better,” he said. “They were motivated. Their orders were to get well and that is what they were doing. Before we left, we asked if they would autograph our shirts. Now that’s my prize possession. I plan to frame it.”
Kennedy said some of the soldiers had questions about what they would be able to do after their injuries. His response was: Anything you want to do—you just may have to do it a little differently.
“We told them to be aggressive with their therapy and work hard.”
The strategy has certainly worked for Kennedy, He delights in proving his mettle—whether it’s whipping able-bodied opponents on the racquetball court or leg-pressing 540 pounds in the weight room.
“I hate to pass up a good challenge,” he says. “It means a lot to me to be able to demonstrate that you can still be an athlete after an amputation. It’s a setback, not the end of life. With a lot of work, prayer and good components, you can do just fine.”
On the bike tour, Kennedy is showcasing one of the prosthetic industry’s most advanced components—Otto Bock’s groundbreaking C-Leg. The high-tech marvel features onboard sensors and a built-in microprocessor, and has expanded the horizons for above-the-knee amputees.
The C-Leg’s ability to navigate stairs is credited with helping an amputee survive the 911 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. And it’s now considered the leg of choice for veterans who have above-the-knee amputations and want to return to duty.
“The C-Leg can analyze your gait 50 times per second and automatically adjust the prosthetic knee joint to adapt to different terrain,” said Chris Wallace, director of Methodist Orthotics and Prosthetics. “It’s like having an onboard clinician making adjustments as you take each step.”
Wallace said the Methodist Orthotics and Prosthetics staff—which includes eight certified practitioners—has fitted more than 25 C-Legs since the prosthesis was introduced in the United States in 1999.
Kennedy was among the first C-leg users in the United States and now travels the country training other practitioners on how to fit the leg. The bike trip will give him more insight into the C-Leg’s functionality.
“We obviously think this is a terrific thing for Brad, but we also think it will be good for our patients,” Wallace said. “When he returns from this trip, he’ll have an even more intimate knowledge of the C-Leg’s capabilities.”
As the only above-the-knee amputee on the bike team, Kennedy is facing a daunting challenge. So he’s happy to have the support of coworkers, who have offered training and nutrition tips. And he’s grateful Methodist management sees the value of allowing him the time to take the 30-day trip.
To make sure he’s up for the challenge, he trained hard. “I don’t want to go to the van,” he said. “I want to prove to myself that I am capable of doing this and let other people in the same situation know that if they put their mind to it and have strong enough willpower, they can do it, too.
“I hope to be able to touch people’s lives and encourage them,” he adds. “This is not supposed to be an endurance thing, it’s a motivational thing. If we get over there and meet a little kid who has an amputation and wants to learn how to ride a bike, then we will take the time to teach him. That’s what the day should be all about, helping people.”
Kennedy will be keeping an online diary of his trip at methodistonline.org. To keep up with his journey, click on “Discover Tour ’04.”
Methodist Orthotics and Prosthetics was one of the first sites in the nation to fit amputees with the Otto Bock C-Leg—the world’s first completely microprocessor-controlled artificial leg. The division is recognized by the American Board of Certification as a center of excellence.
For more information:
3,130 miles to go | The Clarion-Ledger