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Device allows injured legs to stay active

Harriet Hamilton
Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk
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FRISCO – When Jim Dinkel’s ankle collapsed as he was hefting boxes into his attic in May, the Frisco resident knew something was very wrong.With a twisting motion, he’d dislocated two tendons in his right ankle, an injury that would eventually require surgery to correct.Dinkel, 67, feared the operation and a lengthy rehabilitation would keep him away from his job in the facilities department at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center for too long. Luckily, his orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Matt Buchanan, was familiar with a new kind of crutch called “iWALKFree,” which allows patients who cannot put weight on lower leg injuries to walk without conventional crutches.According to the Canadian company’s Web site, iWALKFree was developed in the late 1990s by Lance Matthews, an Ontario farmer who fell off a barn roof and broke his foot. Matthews wanted to stay mobile during his recovery and started tinkering with wood and velcro to design a hands-free support system. The device worked so well for him that his physicians suggested he patent the invention. After further development, Matthews’ new company, Canadaleg, Inc., launched the iWALKFree hands-free crutch to Canadian consumers in June 2000.

Still relatively rare in Summit County, Buchanan said the hands-free design is a “godsend” for the typical foot or ankle-injured patient he sees in the High Country.”People here are active and healthy,” he said. “Work is so important to them.” In the year that Buchanan has been practicing in Frisco, he said he’s had five or six patients use the device.”These things have been huge hits,” he said. “(The patients) love it.”When Buchanan told Dinkel he would need surgery and would have to stay off his injured ankle completely for several weeks afterward, Dinkel was willing to try anything. Unable to find the hands-free crutch in stock at any medical supply company, he ordered one directly from the company the week before his surgery.

For about $400 plus shipping, Dinkel bought the aluminum and plastic device and started practicing with it. The crutch is designed for the knee to be bent at a 90- degree angle and rested on an adjustable plastic shelf attached to the metal support. Learning how to walk with it was challenging, Dinkel found, but not impossible. “You have to learn how to pivot on it,” he said. With his ankle in a cast, Dinkel puts his weight on his knee, rather than on his foot. According to Dinkel, weightbearing on the knee is more comfortable than the underarm pain that accompanies using conventional crutches.The best thing about the iWALKFree is the fact that it’s hands-free, he said.”How do you go to Safeway and get food when you’re using regular crutches?” Dinkel asked. “With this, I can reach over and pick up things off the floor.”Because the crutch allows him to use his right leg even though he can’t put weight on the ankle, Dinkel will probably maintain greater muscle tone and less atrophy in the affected leg. He hopes that, in the long run, the crutch will shorten his rehabilitation period.


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