Self-Cooling Prosthetics: Where Are They?
Many soldiers wounded in the Civil War during the 1800s had to undergo amputations. Military advances before and during the Civil War meant that destructive weapons dealt devastating injuries. During those days, doctors were in no way prepared to treat these injuries and had less knowledge about safe and sanitary environments than we do now. Because of this, many wounds got infected, and the only way to save the patient’s life was to amputate the affected limb before the infection killed them.
Even with today’s knowledge and technology, there are still many cases of amputation, especially for those in the frontline. Gary Walters is no stranger to the war zone. While serving in Iraq, Gary was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and a bomb exploded near him.
His severe wounds led to the amputation of his right leg (below the knee) in the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Afterward, Gary got a prosthesis and had lived with it since. One summer afternoon, he realized what was critically missing from his prosthesis.
Image from Leto Solutions, Inc.
"I was cutting my grass last summer, and trying to think of something to do, I'm like, 'You know what, this heat buildup in the prosthetics, it's an issue for everybody,'" Walter said in an interview with NPR.org.
Despite the many advancements in technology we’ve had, we have yet to see a prosthetic that solved the simple problem of temperature control. Most prostheses these days are made out of material that stores heat instead of freely releasing it. Walters even described another issue that stems from the heat. "It gets really hot, you start to sweat a lot, and then the sweat can't go anywhere. On a good August day in San Antonio, I can build up an inch of sweat in the bottom of my prosthetic."
Sweat is an even bigger issue because it creates friction between the skin and the prosthesis that can cause blisters and skin infections. These conditions create an unhealthy relationship between the amputee and their prosthetics.
The issue inspired Walters to design a prosthetic equipped with a cooling fan that looks and functions similar to ones found in desktop computers and laptops. This brilliant idea got him $100,000 in grant money to further his research, and then he teamed up with a company named Leto Solutions to develop and sell the product to the public. However, these products are no longer available in the market today.
Developing a prosthetic made out of, or somehow incorporates, silicon and/or fiberglass-like material can be another answer to the heat issue. It also solves the problem a prosthetic with a cooling fan might have: water sensitivity.
At present, amputees rely on other technologies to keep their prosthetics cool and healthy—prosthetic socks to help prevent chafing and skin irritation caused by friction, as well as antiperspirant & liquid powder to avoid liner breakdowns and reduce sweating on the amputated area, among others.
Technologies continue to advance, and with that, we hope to see the day when amputees can enjoy prosthetics that not only prioritize functionality and mobility but are also comfortable and pleasurable to wear.