Randy Henderson: Prosthetic Technology Boosts Progress

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Photographs courtesy of Randy Henderson.

Sheer willpower can get a person through a lot. For Randy Henderson, that determination, coupled with a strong work ethic, got him through a near-fatal car crash and the start of a successful law enforcement career. But technology took the Branford, Florida, man to a whole other level.

With the help of an Ottobock X3 microprocessor prosthetic leg in combination with the new Ottobock Meridium foot— the first time the foot was fitted in the United States—it’s no longer willpower alone that gets Henderson through his days. For the first time in his 20-year-long career, he’s able to come home from work without pain.

Getting to this point has been a long road.

In March 1995, Henderson was driving home at about 1:30 a.m., exhausted after a shift working at a correctional facility followed by classes at a law enforcement academy. He fell asleep at the wheel and his vehicle drifted off the side of the road. As the SUV flipped, his right leg became caught and was torn off below the knee when he was ejected.

“The vehicle went one way and I went another,” he says.

Henderson spent the next several hours alone, injured and bleeding. His Army training probably saved his life, he says.

“As soon as I realized what happened, I gave myself an assessment,” he says. “This is stuff I was trained to do. I knew the limb was gone. I went to work at that point to stop the bleeding. I don’t think I did it perfectly, but I gave it a valiant effort.”

When the sun came up, a trucker spotted Henderson’s flipped vehicle and stopped to see if anyone was hurt. Henderson, who had been thrown about 100 yards from his SUV, saw the trucker but the trucker didn’t see him. “I tried to holler out to him but I couldn’t,” he says. “I was probably in shock at this point due to the blood loss.”

Thankfully, the trucker called for help, and when that help arrived, Henderson was spotted and taken to the hospital. Even though his right knee was still intact, the damage led his surgeons to remove it. On his second day at the hospital, a social worker talked to him about applying for disability benefits. He told her he wanted to go back to work, and she responded that with his injury he wouldn’t be able to work as a correctional officer again. “I don’t want to be a correctional officer. I want to go into law enforcement,” he told her.

Henderson pushed hard to get out of the hospital quickly. Within three months he was fitted with his first prosthetic leg. Six months after the crash, he returned to work as a corrections officer at the Hamilton County Correctional Institution and was accepted back into the law enforcement academy to pick up where he had left off. After graduation, he applied for and received a job as a sheriff ’s deputy. Even though no one said anything, Henderson worried that he would be a liability because of his injury. To prove his capabilities to the department and himself, he trained and passed the SWAT physical fitness test—one of the toughest physical fitness standards for law enforcement officers to pass.

Henderson’s new prosthetic solution with an Ottobock Meridium foot allows him to work without pain.

“I wanted to prove that if I had to get to someone, I would get to someone,” he says. “Even if I had the other leg gone too, I would drag myself to get to them.”

Making it through the early years was more about hard work than prosthetic technology, Henderson says. “The [first prosthetic] knee was more like a hinge that I had to kick forward. I just devised my own way of doing things.” For example, he couldn’t step through a window as is sometimes required at a crime scene and in training, so he dove through. “There was no other way to do it,” he says. “I was going to do anything to make it happen.”

If he had a traffic stop and had to stand on a slope, he would do the best he could, but fell from time to time. “I’d bounce back up like nothing happened,” he says.

One day, prepared for pain, he spent the day learning how to kick his leg forward and run. “I probably looked like a three-legged mule,” he says. “But I did it.”

There were some things that he could never get his old prosthetic knee to do and that put him at risk. For example, at some crime scenes, law enforcement officers must walk in a crouched position, shuffling their feet, and staying low to keep out of danger. That just wasn’t possible with his old knee, Henderson says. “If I had to clear a building or something, I was the biggest target in the room.”

With persistence, aided by technology, things got easier over time. The Ottobock X2 prosthetic leg was one such technological advancement that boosted his progress.

“They [his prosthetist and other staff] took me to a hallway and said to take a walk in it,” he says. “I ran down the hall. It was neat [that] I was able to do that. It actually felt normal running again.”

While his gait had improved, he still experienced terrible back pain at the end of each day. To address this, his prosthetist suggested that Henderson take his technology to another level and combine an X3 prosthetic leg with the Meridium prosthetic foot.

The foot uses real-time control to adjust to the user’s speed and ground conditions. It is movable in both the ankle and toe areas, giving the user a prosthetic foot that is based closely on human anatomy. The foot also has a remote control and smartphone app that lets the user control it, such as to adjust the heel height when changing shoes.

Henderson saw an immediate improvement.

“The early feedback is incredibly impressive,” says his current prosthetist, Victor Bustamante, LPO, president and owner of Mid-Florida Prosthetics and Orthotics, headquartered in Gainesville. “His gait has improved, and the biggest takeaway after just one week is the reduction in his back pain. The only variable was the new foot. Not having back pain directly impacts his life. He’ll realize other benefits, too, as he uses it more.”

Henderson’s attitude and work ethic made him the ideal candidate for the new technology, Bustamante says.

“He is a decorated veteran and was an Airborne Ranger,” Bustamante says. “He is your perfect patient on every level. His capability, his attitude, [and] his appreciation for what the VA [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] has done for him [made him] an obvious choice for new technology, especially at this level where we can realize the maximum benefits. He was able to maximize what the technology could do for him.”

The technology will be especially helpful in the long run, Bustamante says. Years of fatigue and pain can wear a body out, and being relieved of that pain will improve the long-term quality of Henderson’s life, he says.

Henderson knows he could have made it through his journey even with a basic prosthesis, but he’s glad he doesn’t have to. The crash that took his leg gave him a new life, he says. He was able to work his way up in law enforcement and is now an investigator for the state of Florida. He attributes his survival to “God having other plans for me,” and he’s now also a church pastor.

Before being fitted with his new knee and foot, it was tough for Henderson to get through the workday. If a friend or family member wanted to go out after work, he rarely had the energy to do it.

“When I got home, I was done,” he says. That is no longer the case.

“Now I can walk all day and I do not feel that strain on my lower back or the fatigue in my leg,” Henderson says. “The socket isn’t fighting against me. I can stay on my feet all day, and when I get home, I can do other things.”

Maria St. Louis-Sanchez can be contacted at .

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