Alan Tanner explains some of the latest technology in prosthetics
For 40 years Alan Tanner has been a craftsman offering a bespoke service. Once he worked in leather and wood but now is more likely to use carbon fibre, aluminium or even titanium.
Thanks to his skill, and technological advances Alan's prosthetic limbs have helped his clients swim, run, climb mountains - or just achieve the longed-for goal of walking across a room unaided.
He is the first to admit that at the start of his career no-one gave much thought to the idea that people who had an amputation should have limbs made to match their sporting pursuits.
"Back then they just assumed they would not be able to do sport and we did not get much demand for it," he said.
"But today expectation has grown. Limb wearers want to go beyond walking, so limbs have become far more technologically advanced.
"We now regularly get requests to make limbs for running, water sports, climbing and so on.
I get my greatest pleasure just helping these individuals and restoring part of their body image, but also function
"But every individual's goal is equally challenging. For example walking across a room unaided carrying a drink may give an elderly patient a huge sense of achievement.
"The first time I got asked for a pair of legs for swimming was for a 15-year-old lad who came from Vietnam as a refugee.
"He came to the UK wearing a pair of limbs made totally from wood, that were made in Vietnam some years earlier. These limbs of course did not fit and I was asked to make him a more modern pair.
"Then he asked if I could make some waterproof limbs for swimming as he wanted to start scuba-diving, which he subsequently did.
"I designed a pair of short appliances to be worn submerged in water and with fins fitted to the ends.
"I used to take him to Woking swimming baths where he learned to swim again, wearing these special limbs, plus full scuba-diving equipment and wet suit - he looked great doing lengths of the pool underwater!
"I have now got people running on special carbon fibre sprinting legs and we have one doctor who runs regularly 11-15kms (7-10 miles) a week as a below leg amputee and he is over 60 so he is fantastic.
"We have people going in for the New York and London marathons."
Alan, who now works for prosthetic firm Blatchfords, based at Charing Cross Hospital, London, said he loves his work and has never wanted to do anything else.
"Each day is different."
The majority of patients treated by Alan are people who have lost their legs in road accidents or have had them amputated following diabetes or smoking-related diseases.
Alan always tries to ensure patients can be as active as possible
"We start with a profile and work out both their needs in the immediate term and the longer-term goals that they might wish to achieve," he said.
"We can then build up a picture of what we are going to do for the patient short term and long term and work out the type of limb we are going to make them."
First Alan, or those he works with, take a plaster cast of the remainder of the limb, or a 3D computer image of it, before making the socket and attaching a limb.
"If someone is in hospital they will be prioritised and we can make their limb in four working days."
He said in some cases the limbs were life changing.
"I recently got an email from a GP asking if I would see one of his patients who had been refused limbs from her local limb centre.
"This unfortunate lady had been 'written off' at her local centre as a non limb wearer following her second amputation above the knee - and had spent the last two years sitting in a wheelchair, developing a large pressure sore in the process.
"The patient had seen pictures of some of the bilateral amputee soldiers wearing short appliances that I had made.
"This lady had many difficulties, not least having to spend all her time in a chair, giving no relief to her sore areas.
"She subsequently received physiotherapy to improve her core stability and a bespoke pair of SNAPS - short non-articulated pylons - built to match the height of her wheelchair, enabling her to transfer in and out of her chair and to stand for short periods of time.
"These appliances have proved extremely successful for her posture, her pressure sore, her mental state and not least has significantly increased her independence as her husband had previously been lifting her into and out of her chair for the past two years.
"I get my greatest pleasure just helping these individuals and restoring part of their body image and function."
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