In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, the photo of Jeff Bauman Jr. being rushed to the hospital shortly after having his legs blown off brought us face to face with the grim reality that many victims of this tragedy would be undergoing limb amputation.
But advances in prosthetic technologies over the last thirty years have far surpassed the crude, wooden models that once made having artificial limbs such a nuisance. In fact, today's robotic and bionic devices are giving amputees nearly full restoration of their lost limbs.
Hugh Herr, head of the biomechatronics research group at MIT Media Lab and double leg amputee, says he predicts "bionics will catch on like wildfire."
"It's a win for the patient. It's a win for the healthcare supplier and it's a win for the payer," Herr told Discovery News. "Right now the payers think that high tech is expensive and should be avoided. I'm trying to change that paradigm."
While bionic prosthetics are more expensive on a device-by-device basis, Herr says they can help reduce secondary disabilities such as hip arthritis, knee arthritis and lower back pain that amputees often develop from using prosthetic limbs.
"Those secondary disabilities are what drive up health care costs," he said. "If you can emulate nature, if you can truly replace a limb after amputation, those secondary disabilities will never emerge and that person will remain healthy for their entire life and won't have these astronomically high health care payouts."