A remarkable recovery: Miranda Johnson gets space-age prosthetic

Sue Guinn Legg • Apr 25, 2012 at 9:34 PM

Miranda Johnson, who lost her hip and leg and nearly lost her life in an August boating accident, is back on her feet and moving on with life.

On Wednesday, the 30-year-old Johnson City woman who was two semesters away from receiving her nursing degree when she fell from a boat during a pleasure outing on Boone Lake, was surprising everyone with her early mastery of the new state-of-the-art, computer-assisted prosthetic hip and leg system she received on Tuesday.

Therapists at Victory Orthotics and Prosthetics where Johnson is a patient, said the Helix3D Hip Joint System is the most advanced prosthetic hip and leg system available and includes a microprocessor-controlled knee, which helps patients walk with a more normal gait, speed up, slow down, conquer stairs and hills and even recover from near stumbles. The new technology is giving Johnson a new lease on her future.

Victory’s Zach Smith and Calvin Hoyle are the only prosthetics specialists in Tennessee trained in the Helix3D system and Johnson is the first patient they have fitted with it. Smith said it’s the height at which Johnson’s hip was amputated that makes it difficult to fit with prosthetics and the technology of her new hip and leg system makes it unique.

After two days back on her feet, Johnson was exhausted Wednesday but already contemplating her return to school, possibly as early as August when she will mark the one-year anniversary of her accident.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “There’s a microprocessor in the knee they use to adjust the tension with a computer. If I begin to fall, I can feel the resistance, kind of like a rubber band, and I can catch myself.

“My amputation is rare and this is new to all of us. This is day two and they say I’ve done exceptionally well. I’m surprising everyone, myself and them.”

Byron Backus, a prosthetics specialist with Ottobock, the Minneapolis-based company that manufactures the Helix3D system, came to Victory on Tuesday to help Johnson get started and said even she does not realize how well she is doing.

“Most of us don’t know how difficult it is to walk without a hip, a knee or an ankle. She is doing amazingly well,” he said.

Whether her new hip and leg will take her back to school in August remains the question. But Johnson’s confidence is building.

“I was worried about it,” she said. “But with this, I can walk. I’m more stable. And I am going to do it. I’m looking at this as another step in the process and when I’m proficient with this, I’m good to go.”

In addition to Johnson’s physical challenges, Smith said she has had to battle for insurance coverage for her prosthetics since she was injured. Victory joined her in that battle, he said, and her new hip and leg system are covered.

Because she was uninsured when she was injured, the seven surgeries Johnson underwent in the seven days that followed the accident have devastated her financially. Still, with help from friends and family and others in the community who have helped her, even the $500,000 Johnson owes in outstanding medical bills does not seem insurmountable.

Last month, Lifestyles fitness center in Johnson City conducted a bake sale and a drawing for a one-year-membership that raised nearly $4,000 toward her medical bills. Evergreen Baptist Church in Erwin threw a benefit barbecue on her behalf and the Beard family at Renovus Medical Day Spa in Johnson City gave away spa services and a year’s membership to help raise donations. And as she is with her new hip and leg, Johnson and her supporters are just getting started.

“I’m blessed,” she said. “I was given a second chance and I am not taking that for granted. I’m not giving up. I’m living life the best I know how. I’ve had to modify some things, but I’m still living.”

For others who wish to help Johnson meet the cost of her surgeries, donations to the “Miranda Johnson Account” may be made at any State of Franklin Bank location or by mail to State of Franklin Bank, P.O. Box 940, Johnson City, TN 37601.

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