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09/06/2017

Prosthetics and Orthotics Professor and Alumnus Dive into Underwater Research

Great Lessons Start when Classes End

Scuba diving can be challenging for amputees, but thanks to an innovative underwater study by alumnus Michael McCauley M’16 and Duffy Felmlee, assistant professor of prosthetics and orthotics in the University’s Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, there is hope for improved function of prosthetic devices under water. 

Over the summer, deep below the coast of Looe Key, Fla., McCauley and Felmlee dived with veterans from the Combat Wounded Veterans Challenge (CWVC) to observe how prostheses perform under water. CWVC is a program for injured veterans and service members that provides rehabilitative opportunities through high-adventure outdoor challenges.

Every year, the organization hosts a Scuba Challenge, where veterans help restore Florida’s decaying barrier reef by planting corals. While being observed, in just one day, about 36 challenge participants planted 500 corals, which can be critical to the marine eco-system.

While the veterans were planting corals, Felmee and McCauley, who is an orthotist and prosthetist at Hanger Clinic in Springhill, Tenn, collected data on the volunteers’ body movement and balance using sensors attached to their prosthetic legs. This information will help identify areas that can be improved for development of better prostheses. 

“Having the opportunity to work alongside combat-wounded veterans has been a great experience,” says Felmlee.

He is humbled by their willingness to help the amputee and rehabilitation communities considering how much they have already sacrificed for their country. The veterans who participate have suffered traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, or have loss of limbs.

Felmlee adds that the research will not only help improve the use of prostheses under water but it will also be applicable to various forms of recreational and therapeutic activities for other patient populations.