Locally-made device could revolutionize prosthetics

SEATTLE -- A local company is about to launch what if hopes will be a revolutionary medical device that gives amputees the freedom they haven't had since losing a limb.

Many amputees describe walking around on a regular prosthetic foot like wearing ski boots. There's no flexibility and not a lot of grace. A new device, called Magellan, may very well change all that by giving users the power to adjust their prosthetic.

A few years ago Mark McWilliams wouldn't have even attempted to climb a steep hill in Interlaken Park. McWilliams is an amputee, and his first prosthetic ankle wasn't flexible.

"It's fixed," he said of the prosthetic. "It doesn't move. It doesn't accommodate terrain, so while I was able to walk, I was able to get back up and go, it wasn't enabling me to kind of push myself to the extent I wanted to."

With that frustration in mind, McWilliams began testing Magellan. The research and development department is now working on the device at Orthocare Innovations in Mountlake Terrace. Those designers have created something most people take for granted: A moveable ankle that constantly adjusts.

"Magellan is smart," said Dr. David Boone. "Using sensors that are built into it, it determines really what's the best position right now for what this person's doing, and it just goes there. So for the patient, the feeling is, wow, that feels right."

For McWilliams, Magellan was still missing one big thing. He wanted to be able to make adjustments with his iPhone, so the software engineer went to work with Orthocare and designed an app that, among other things, lets him change heel height to accommodate different shoes.

"Before Magellen, this is something where I would have to go and schedule an appointment with my prosthetist and she'd have to get a wrench and go in there an manually adjust this thing."

What used to take hours now takes a matter of seconds.

When McWilliams lost his lower leg, he set a goal to be more active as an amputee than he was before. He's already succeeded.

"The first time I (walked up a hill) on Magellan I got a shiver down my spine and I thought, this is giving me back what I lost," he said. "It was an incredible experience, an incredible moment for me."

McWilliams has become so comfortable with his Magellan, he said some of his friends don't even know he's an amputee.

The Magellan should be available commercially later this year.