Niagara Foot: Boon to Landmine Survivors

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Life for many landmine survivors may have just gotten better, thanks to the Niagara FootTM.

The prosthetic foot is a low-cost, high-performance energy-return foot which decreases the muscular effort required for walking and is extremely durable.

The Niagara Foot was developed as part of the landmine victims relief program of The Canadian Centre for Mine Action Technology (CCMAT) by Niagara Prosthetics & Orthotics Corporation, Saint Catharines, Ontario, and Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, with the collaboration of Dupont Engineering Polymers, Wilmington, Delaware, and Recto Molded Products, Cincinnati, Ohio. The injection-molded Niagara Foot uses Dupont Delrin, a special polyacetyl plastic that is unique in its combination of elasticity and toughness.

After extensive fatigue-testing of the foot at Queen's University, researchers began clinical trials on 15 volunteer subjects at Aranyaprathet Hospital in Thailand in November 2001 as collaboration between CCMAT, the Thailand Mine Action Center, and Queen's University. Subjects' ages ranged from 32 to 72; 13 were male and two were female. Twelve were landmine victims; two were injured by mortars; and one lost a limb due to infection.

The area is one of the most heavily mined in the world. Millions of landmines still in the ground in Cambodia testify to the horrors of the Cambodian war, which began in the early 1970s and ended in the late 1990s when the Khmer Rouge collapsed. The mine-infested terrain includes the Cambodia-Thailand border; even the Thai army laid landmines to prevent the conflict from crossing into Thailand.

Although many amputees in developing countries make do with homemade prostheses, the SACH  foot is widely used. Problems with the SACH foot include durability and poor performance on uneven terrain.

"The Niagara Foot just keeps going and going," said Dave McCracken, a technical advisor for the Thailand Mine Action Committee, quoted in an article in the Globe and Mail, Toronto, January 2, 2003.

The foot's energy-return feature helps relieve pain and fatigue-no small thing when daily work includes lugging heavy loads and performing agricultural work on rough, uneven terrain.

Cosmesis has been an issue. The stress of wearing a "strange-looking" space-age prosthesis has been alleviated by adding a life-like cover to the foot, the Globe and Mail article noted. Enabling the foot to fit better inside amputees' current footwear also is being addressed.

Although the Niagara Foot can be fitted to wooden systems, this should be avoided, since the force imposed by the foot on the connecting bolt assembly could cause the system to break, noted the Midterm Report: Niagara Foot Pilot Study in Thailand, published October 18, 2002. The report urged careful consideration before retrofitting the foot to an older prosthesis.

As the foot continues being refined and tested in clinical trials, its promise of providing easier walking with less pain and fatigue, along with durability, continues to grow.

For more information, contact Ruth Gabouri, Niagara Prosthetics & Orthotics Corp., npo@cogeco.ca

Meeting the Objective

The project's objective is to provide high-performance, low-cost prosthetic components to lower-limb amputees in regions under-serviced by currently available devices. The requirements for developing the Niagara Foot were for it to be:

  1. Simple-using a minimum of components and easy to fit and repair;
  2. Durable-including being weather-resistant;
  3. Functional-wearers are able to perform activities of daily living;
  4. Affordable-costing less than 3 percent of users' annual income.
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