Archive for Sunday, November 30, 2003

Ferry crash survivor aims to walk again

November 30, 2003

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— Paul Esposito lost both legs in the deadly crash last month of a Staten Island Ferry, but he is determined to walk again -- on limbs programmed by computer to take him into his new life.

Since his above-the-knee amputations, he's discovered much about himself.

"I had no idea I was this strong," the 24-year-old said in an interview with The Associated Press.

A New York-based firm, Arimed, will design his new legs, constructed from titanium -- a strong, light metal developed for space travel -- and a high-strength material called carbon acrylic.

This so-called C-Leg system is fitted with knees that hold computer microprocessors programmed from a laptop computer. Each hydraulic knee "reads" a person's spontaneous motions 50 times a second and responds accordingly, activating the limbs. The knees flex or stiffen, switching when a human hand taps the leg and following a gait programmed for, say, walking up and down stairs or on rough outdoor terrain.

The company is donating the limbs, which cost about $100,000.

Esposito expects to be fitted with a training set of the legs in February, returning to Staten Island University Hospital for at least a month to learn to use them before he gets his custom-designed pair.

The young man was returning home to Staten Island on Oct. 15 from his Manhattan job as a waiter when the ferry crashed into a concrete maintenance pier, killing 10 people and wounding dozens of passengers. Investigators have identified human error as the likely cause of the crash.

As Esposito lay with both legs crushed beneath a metal pole, British tourist Kerry Griffiths, a nurse, tied a belt around his legs to try to stop the bleeding. Minutes later, Esposito was rushed to a hospital for surgery that saved his life.

Since then, Esposito has received medical care costing thousands of dollars a day.

Paul Esposito wheels down the hallway after therapy class at Staten
Island University Hospital in New York. The 24-year-old lost both
legs but survived the Staten Island Ferry crash that took the lives
of 10 people. He plans to leave the hospital Thursday.

Paul Esposito wheels down the hallway after therapy class at Staten Island University Hospital in New York. The 24-year-old lost both legs but survived the Staten Island Ferry crash that took the lives of 10 people. He plans to leave the hospital Thursday.

His restaurant job did not provide health insurance, but his family is being spared the huge bills thanks to contributions from the public.

Next Thursday, he plans to leave the hospital and move back into the home he shared with his parents and siblings before the accident. His bedroom has been moved to the ground floor and the hallways enlarged so he can wheel himself around until he's fitted for the computerized prosthetic legs.

The last 20 of 200 staples have been removed from his amputated legs, putting his recovery ahead of schedule. But he has no illusions about the long, difficult road he faces.

Hours of daily therapy include exercises to strengthen his pelvis and thigh muscles.

"That will help me stand up. But it's hard to get the lower body in shape when you don't have legs," he said.

Esposito can now lift himself out of a wheelchair and slide onto regular chairs. Therapy includes moments of throbbing pain and muscle fatigue, Esposito said, "but I'm not going to give up."

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