February 24, 2004
28-year-old amputee, prosthetist to bike 2,800 miles across Europe
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
FLOWOOD, Miss.—Ever since a car accident took half his left leg at age 17, Brad Kennedy has refused to be defined by his loss.
The Mendenhall resident 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.
So when Kennedy was asked if he wanted to try biking across Europe, his response was: Bring it on.
“I hate to pass up a good challenge,” he says.
In April, the 28-year-old prosthetist for Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson will join two other amputees on a 10-country, 2,800-mile bicycle trek. The trip is being 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.”
As a warm-up to the European tour, Kennedy will head to North Carolina on Feb. 25 for a 360-mile “team-building” trip with fellow bikers Mitch Reinitz of Seattle, Wash. and Dan Sherer of Wilmington, N.C.
The threesome will leave Edenton, N.C. on Feb. 28 and arrive March 2 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The next day, the team will visit Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. and offer encouragement to U.S. soldiers who have lost limbs in the Iraqi War.
As he makes his rounds at Walter Reed, Kennedy said he expects that “talking to the ones who have defended us,” will be both exciting and emotional.
“My lifelong dream was to be in the military,” he explains. “My senior year I had signed up for the U.S. Marine Corps, then a couple of months later I had my accident.
“It will mean 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, they’ll do just fine.”
On the bike tour, Kennedy will be 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 like Kennedy.
“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.”
As someone who wears the leg and has fit it on dozens of other amputees, Kennedy said he’s eager to see how the limb handles hundreds of miles of pedaling.
“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,” Kennedy said. “I hope to be able to touch people’s lives and encourage them.”
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 45-day trip.
“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.”
Kennedy said since receiving his C-Leg in January, 2000, his activity level has increased 200 percent. In addition to playing a variety of sports, he hunts and fishes and recently did much of the construction on his new house – including working on the roof. “I’ll try anything with my C-Leg,” he said. “I think Otto Bock likes that.”
As a prosthetist, Kennedy designs, builds and fits artificial limbs for a living, so he’ll be able to serve as a repairman if anyone’s leg needs a tune-up during the trip. But he doesn’t expect to do much tinkering. In fact, he figures his sound leg will fail before his artificial one.
“Otto Bock truly believes in putting out a superior product,” he said. “In our industry, they’ve set the benchmark for quality for years. I wouldn’t attempt this adventure on anything but an Otto Bock C-Leg.”
Kennedy said after wearing a C-Leg for a while, you come to trust the computer’s ability to make adjustments and you become less worried about falling.
“You’re able to relax more and enjoy your surroundings. The first day I wore the leg, my wife Connie and I were able to walk downstairs holding hands. I had never done that before.”
Riding a bike outdoors has been another first since his accident, and Kennedy admits his first 2.5-mile ride wiped him out. “That is when I became scared,” he said.
Since that time he has worked up to a 40-mile jaunt, and he’s determined to be ready for five- to seven-hour days of covering distances from 40 to 103 miles while in Europe.
“It’s a personal thing,” he says. “I don’t want to go to the van.”
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.
Brad Kennedy, a 28-year-old prosthetist at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson will join two other amputees on a 10-country, 2,800-mile bicycle trek through Europe.
Brad Kennedy will be showcasing one of the prosthetic industry's most advanced components--Otto Bock's groundbreaking C-Leg--during his 2,800 mile tour of Europe. The high-tech marvel features onboard sensors and a built-in microprocessor, and has expanded the horizons for above-the-knee amputees like Kennedy.