Stacey Pryor of Denton, Texas, is the type of person who doesn't hesitate in new situations. "I'm a no-fear kind of person," she says. "I just go for it."
Credit that courage not only for getting her into a new high-tech prosthetic leg, but also into a new career in prosthetic sales.
Pryor, 44, says she wasn't looking to leave her career as a consultant for the telecommunications industry, nor necessarily looking for a new prosthesis, but that's where life took her. The events that led this single mother of three to this new adventure began in 1999. She was riding as a passenger on a motorcycle when a drunk driver missed a stop sign and plowed into them. Her right leg was severed. A few months after the accident, Pryor was ready for her first prosthetic leg—a transfemoral prosthesis with a mechanical knee and a static foot. She says she was not impressed.
"I was much faster on my crutches, so I only wore it a few times," she says. "I put it in the closet…." In November 2000, she tried a mechanical hydraulic knee and was much happier. She says she was able to return to her usual activities with her kids.
"I loved it," she says. "[I] absolutely wore it out. I'm very active outdoors—camping and riding four-wheelers. I was out and going again. I wore that leg until I blew the seals out of it."
She could have stayed with the same leg, but Pryor says she was aware of the new microprocessor-controlled prosthetic legs and was curious. She tried the Ottobock C-Leg and was happy in that leg for five years. Her gait, however, had a noticeable swing that her mother often commented on.
"My mom always paid attention to what I had going on," Pryor says. "She asked me, 'Why do you have to swing your leg so far to the side?' Everybody knew to walk on my left side, not on the right side, because my leg was going to come out."
Her current prosthetist, Gary Strobel, CP, LP, owner of Strobel & Associates Prosthetics, Plano, Texas, says the swing occurred whenever the C-Leg defaulted to stance phase and it became stiff and difficult to bend. Pryor says she would swing her leg out so her toe would clear the ground. Occasionally, she would fall; one fall was so serious that she broke her shoulder.
Despite the swing, Pryor says she was happy with the C-Leg, but "you don't know what you don't know," and so in March 2012 she asked Strobel, whom she had just met, how to become a "guinea pig" for new technology. By happenstance, Strobel had been asked by Össur, Reykjavik, Iceland, to recommend patients who would be interested in trying the company's SYMBIONIC® LEG—a microprocessor-controlled knee and foot—for a training workshop.
Pryor didn't hesitate at the opportunity and says the two-day training helped her realize that her gait could improve. She recalls a moment during the training when she was walking up a ramp with the test leg:
"Generally, I would go up a ramp sideways, sidestepping, or diagonally," she says. "[The therapists] said, 'No, we want you to go straight up.' So I did and they stopped me and said, 'Look at your feet.' When I looked down, my toe and my heel were both on the ground just like my regular limb. Generally, if you're on an incline with a static foot, you're standing on your toe and your heel is off the ground. With this leg, my foot was planted firmly on the ground just like my natural foot. I was surprised. I felt that it was part of me. At that point I started crying…. I was so excited I wanted to do uneven, slippery stuff and try other terrain that I would have avoided before."
Pryor says she immediately trusted the leg, which is something Strobel, who was watching, noticed too.
"She was very confident with it," he says. "She walked down the ramp with her knee bent and she put her weight on it, which takes a lot of courage."
After the training, Pryor was determined to work with Strobel to get a SYMBIONIC LEG. She says she was most excited by the foot's ability to lift automatically when the leg swings through, which she knew would minimize falls. She also talked to Össur representatives about being a patient model, which would allow her to share her experience with other patients. They were interested.
"They were so impressed with her," Strobel says, "with her gait, her improvement overall, and how much she liked it. They felt like she would represent them well."
But first Strobel wanted to change her socket. He and business partner Candy Paquette, CPA, LPA, had noticed that her current roll-on liner didn't fit well with the C-Leg and would likely not work well if she changed to the heavier SYMBIONIC LEG either. Paquette worked with Pryor and switched her to an M.A.S.® suction socket. With the new socket in place, Strobel says he knew the SYMBIONIC LEG would feel lighter and more natural as Pryor transitioned into it. From his experience, he knew that initially many patients do not feel safe in the SYMBIONIC LEG because it does not stiffen and default to stance phase. That was not the case with Pryor.
"There wasn't much of a transition," he recalls. "We told her a few things to look for. She did it all herself…. She did it easier than what I've experienced [with other patients]."
So in May 2012, Pryor marched out of the office in her new leg and says she found it to be a life-changing experience.
"Not only did it change my life," Pryor says, "but it changed things for everybody who is close to me. Before, I didn't carry things…. There was always somebody there to carry stuff for me so in case I fell I could catch myself. It doesn't have to be that way now."
She was also eager to share her experience with other patients. As a self-employed consultant, she had the flexibility to travel for Össur and demonstrate the leg, which she says she enjoyed.
"Any opportunity I had to talk to practitioners or patients and offer my experience so that it might give somebody else the life-changing experience I had, I took that opportunity," Pryor says.
Eventually Össur representatives approached her about a research and development job at its headquarters in Iceland, more than 3,700 miles and six time zones away. She says the distance didn't intimidate her. She willingly applied for that position and another sales job in Nashville, Tennessee. The sales opportunity came through first so she accepted it and is now Össur's prosthetics division's area manager, covering Tennessee and Kentucky.
Given her enthusiasm with her new leg, would she ever try another leg?
"Again, this is a situation where you don't know what you don't know," Pryor says. "I feel very happy and satisfied with where I am right now…but who's to say that there isn't something greater on the horizon that you just don't know about."
Linda M. Hellow is a freelance writer based in Centennial, Colorado. She can be reached at