United States troops continue to risk life and limb in Afghanistan. Statistics from the Pentagon indicate last year more than 200 service members had limbs amputated due to combat-related wounds.
Tazewell native and current Knoxville resident Tim Carr is one of the wounded warriors who lost a limb in combat. Carr spent eight years in the Marines before following his father's footsteps into the U.S. Army.
"I enlisted in September of 1996 with the Marines," said Carr. "In 2005 I re-enlisted and joined the Army. My dad retired out of the Army and always wanted me to be a soldier."
Carr was deployed to Iraq and survived a roadside bomb in 2006. The improvised explosive device (IED) rocked the Humvee that Carr was riding and knocked him unconscious.
"They think the IED was detonated by a cell phone. When I woke up a couple of minutes after the blast, my comrades had cut off my vest because I had some burns. My injuries were not too bad," said Carr.
Carr was not as lucky in December 2010 while deployed in Afghanistan.
"The enemy had attacked our base and shot a mortar and it landed right
beside me. I tried to get up and walk but I couldn't. The other guys grabbed me and helped pull me into the bunker because we were still under attack," said Carr. "I had really bad wounds to my leg and my back. I was losing a lot of blood. My whole focus was on just staying awake and alive."
Carr was transported to a hospital and learned he would lose his right foot.
"They told me they
had to amputate my right leg because it severed one of my arteries," said Carr. "It was shocking and really tough to take, but someone else died in the attack so I considered myself lucky."
President Obama and General David Petreaus visited Carr while he was hospitalized in Afghanistan. Carr eventually returned to East Tennessee with his life intact and was fitted with a traditional prosthetic foot.
"The biggest problem is the normal prosthetic feet are in a fixed position. You can't move the foot up and down. It depends entirely on your own power and it takes 20 to 30 percent more energy for an
amputee to walk than a normal person. You get really fatigued."
While Carr quickly adapted to the prosthetic foot, what he truly missed was his ankle. That changed this week with the delivery of a new computerized battery-powered bionic foot.
"This is the first commercially available powered foot," said Matt Mullins, certified prosthetist at Choice Orthotics and Prosthetics in Knoxville. "It has a microprocessor that calibrates the foot and ankle to provide some powered push from the front of the foot."
The device is technically known as the I-Walk BiOM. Mullins said the bionic foot is not for all amputees. It is best-suited for those who remain physically active and have some level of technical savvy.
"It is not rocket science, but it is an electronic device. I'd say if you have enough knowledge of electronics and computers to operate a smart phone, you can maintain and operate the foot," said Mullins.
The device is also expensive at more than $50,000.
"My insurance covered the entire cost, which includes three rechargeable battery packs. Each battery lasts anywhere from two to five hours, depending on how active you are. I'll definitely use all three of the batteries in a day," said Carr.
Carr demonstrated his bionically bolstered balance while running up hills and rock piles.
"It's a huge difference. When I walk it propels me forward. The foot will also actually bend and relax to go down to a stationary position," said Carr. "On rocks it does really well because it mimics an ankle. With my old foot I
could not do this [walk on rocks] without falling. It feels like I've almost got my foot back. The
kids were joking with me yesterday that I'm part Terminator and part Robocop."
Carr said the new steps in technology are a giant leap for him and other wounded warriors.
"It's revolutionary. It really is. I'm going to be able to do
everything I used to be able to do and just have my freedom back. That is overwhelming," said Carr.