By Kathy Walsh
DENVER (CBS4) – A veteran who lost a leg in Iraq and a double amputee from a car accident will be the first people ever to have a breakthrough artificial leg permanently implanted. A Denver orthopedic surgeon developed his own implant design made of porous metal and will operate on Tuesday.
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Ronald Hugate will be implanting a permanent post in the leg bone used to connect a prosthesis. Hugate has been developing his special design over many years. He is finally ready to try it on humans.
On Nov. 11, a roadside bomb in Iraq nearly killed Staff Sgt. Jace Badia.
“Traumatically severed my left leg below the knee,” Badia told CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh.
He came home to a Purple Heart and nearly 100 surgeries.
On July 3, 2014, Gary Molock was driving a delivery truck when a moving van careened across Interstate 25.
“Hit me head on. My legs were crushed and amputated instantly,” Molock told Walsh, “In 10 seconds, my whole life changed.”
For years now, both Badia and Molock have tried walking on artificial legs, but the prosthetic sockets are often too painful.
“Little bit of bruising, little bit of soreness, little bit of inflammation, it’s always painful at the end of the day,” said Badia.
“I literally have to tell my wife get my chair because I can’t go any further,” explained Molock.
Because of their misery, these men will make history.
“This is going to make you a new man,” Dr. Hugate told Badia.
On Tuesday at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center, the orthopedic surgeon will implant a permanent prosthesis first in Badia, then in Molock.
“It’s a real game changer,” Hugate said.
Working with amputees as a military surgeon inspired Hugate. In 2005, we followed his work with veterinarian Dr. Robert Taylor implanting a pair of artificial legs into the bones of a Siberian Husky named Triumph. Because of infection, the legs were later removed. Others have done what is called osseointegration surgery in humans.
But Hugate’s procedure is different. It took him about 15 years to develop his design. It involves putting an implant — a rod — into the femur bone. But Hugate is the first to add a collar he developed out of porous metal.
“The skin and soft tissue will actually grow into this material,” explained Hugate.
That will create a seal that blocks infection.
Hugate said he is excited.
“I’m also really nervous. It’s a big deal. I want to do a good job for these folks.”
Badia, a father of three, said he is okay with being a guinea pig.
When asked if he was worried he answered, “I am horribly nervous.”
“It’s a 50/50 draw and I’m smiling toward the optimistic side.”
“It’s to me, I think, the technology I need to be able to get some of my life back,” said Molock, a father of two.
“Ultimate goal for me, Kathy, I’d like you to walk past the patient that had this done and not even know it,” said Hugate.
The surgeon is hoping to help patients find their footing, once again.