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(NECN/WOAI: Randy Beamer) - He was never expected to run again, even walking was a challenge. The pain of bearing weight on the injured leg is gone with the weight actually re-directed around the injury into a kind of cross between the latest in high-tech prosthetics and a basic leg brace.
That's the IDEO.
"It stands for Intrepid Dynamic Exo-skeleton or Exo-skeletal Orthosis," said Ryan Blanck, prosthetist, IDEO developer.
A little complicated to say and the results are hard to put into words.
"Without this it just really, it made a difference, it really made a difference to my life, to my family," said Staff Sgt. Athena Knight of the U.S. Army.
Knight lost half her achilles tendon and heel pad because of a staph infection.
"It hurt cause I am very athletic, I've been playing basketball and soccer for my whole life," said Knight.
She couldn't run for three years until she got an IDEO.
"When I went out there the first day, after I got fitted and everything and I went out running and it was, it was a blessing so I know for me it was just amazing," said Knight.
Ryan Blanck is the technical guy behind the IDEO. Blanck came to help develop prosthetics for the soldiers losing limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the great strides for amputees left others behind.
"I was even thinking about removing the leg, because I had seen guys who were doing a lot better than I was without it," said Cpl. Wesley Bigbie, U.S. Marine Corps.
People like Bigbie and Knight don't have to have a leg amputated, but were literally asking for it after seeing amputee buddies recover and run faster without their level of pain.
"It's like I had given up, there was no other option for me to go," said Bigbie.
Back in 2009, the IDEO was born when a therapist asked Blanck for something that would get a patient just like Bigbie running again without having to lose his leg.
"I put down some concepts on paper, a month later I had a trial device we put on him, and it kind of worked," said Blanck.
He fine-tuned it and then one by one, created more. Technically, the IDEO off-loads the energy from your upper body and stores it in the device. Then, it returns some of that energy back to your upper body, all while it cradles and controls motion in the foot and leg.
"For me, I think it's one of the best inventions to come out of this war to date," said Lt. Col. Donald Gajewski, CFI director. "I think it's absolutely huge. Being an amputee surgeon over the past two years being here at this center, it has probably kept me from doing, conservatively 100 amputations."
It's so effective that 75 injured service members who wanted to return to the battlefield have been able to.
"You can't put it into words. It's like something you never wanted to do before was running and then all of a sudden it's taken away and then God gives it back to you," said Bigbie.