August 2, 2013

Maine amputees meet with ‘Dolphin Tale’ prosthetist

By Rachel Ohm
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — Roland McLaggan was helping out a friend with a construction project when he fell off a roof and badly twisted his ankle.

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Prosthetist Kevin Carroll, right, evaluates the prosthetic device worn by Ronald McLaggan, of South China, at the Hanger Clinic in Waterville on Thursday.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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Clearwater Marine Aquarium senior marine mammal trainer Abby Stone works with Winter the dolphin in 2011, in Clearwater, Fla. Winter played herself in "Dolphin Tale," a family-friendly movie starring Harry Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd and Kris Kristofferson.

AP photo

He spent three years going to doctor’s appointments in Bangor, Portland and Boston before doctors decided he should have his lower left leg amputated because of avascular necrosis, which is when the blood supply to bone tissue is cut off, killing the bone tissue.

“It’s a tough situation but they told me that in the long run I would probably be better off with an amputation,” said McLaggan, 41, who lives in South China.

It has been about two years since McLaggan’s lower left leg was amputated and he was fit for his first prosthetic device. On Thursday he was one of about 30 amputees, some coming from as far away as Aroostook County, to consult with Kevin Carroll, a prosthetist and the vice president of Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics.

Carroll, who is visiting Waterville from Orlando, Fla., is known for developing the first prosthetic device for a dolphin at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Fla., as well as his work in educating and working with clinicians and prosthetic users around the world.

He was portrayed by Morgan Freeman in the 2011 film “Dolphin Tale,” about his work creating a prosthetic tail fluke for Winter, a dolphin who was trapped in a crab trap. Carroll said that when he heard Winter’s story, his heart went out to her and he thought he could help make her a new tail.

Along with prosthetist Dan Strzempka, Carroll developed a prosthetic tail for Winter that attached to her body using suction and could propel her through air and water. He said that he continues to research prosthetics for animals as well as humans.

“There is a lot to learn from clinicians and patients and I like to encourage them to be adventurous and open minded,” said Carroll during his visit to the Hanger clinic in Waterville.

McLaggan said that there are challenges and inconveniences that come from living with a prosthetic device. For instance, he has to take it off to take a shower and when he goes to bed.

He has also gone through a significant adjustment adapting to life with the prosthetic. Scott Hebert, a prosthetist at Hanger who works with McLaggan regularly, said he is making progress.

On Thursday, Carroll, who was meeting McLaggan for the first time, watched him walk a short distance around the room.

“On the street you would never know he has a prosthetic device. He is right on track for where he should be following his surgery two years ago,” said Carroll.

Still, there are some things McLaggan struggles with, including balance and muscle weakness, which is largely because of a lack of use during the three years doctors spent trying to save his lower leg.

McLaggan was fitted with a prosthetic immediately after his amputation and since then has had three different prosthetics. Carroll said it is normal for amputees to have to be refitted for a new prosthetic after an amputation and the swelling of their limb goes down. During the three-year period which McLaggan calls his “downtime,” the muscles in his left leg began to atrophy and he is just now starting to regain that strength, he said.

The prosthesis, which includes an ankle socket and prosthetic foot, attaches to his upper leg below the knee with an airtight sleeve that holds it in place. There are some days when the prosthetic, which weighs about four pounds, can feel so heavy he is limited to two or three hours of activity at a time, McLaggan said.

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