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Veteran, Cyborg or both?

SNOWMASS, Colo – John Wade, or Big John, as he is known to the Winter Sports Clinic community, also goes by his own self-proclaimed nickname – John the Cyborg. Wade, an Army Veteran who receives his care at the Cleveland VA Medical Center, served from 1991 to 1998 and again from 2004 – 2012.

It was August 2018, in an act of selflessness, that he became an amputee. The brakes failed on a semi he was driving and rather than crushing the cars in his path, he swerved off the road. Seven weeks later, he regained consciousness and discovered he was missing his left leg below the knee. Four suicide attempts later he made a conscious decision to practice self-love and decided he needed to either “be busy dying or be busy living.”

He was at the Cleveland VAMC when he was approached by a researcher who was developing an experimental treatment for amputees. Fast forward to November 2022, and Wade was implanted with 64 electrodes in his left thigh with the hope that it would pick up his brain’s electrical signals for movement. The experimental research is being conducted by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Case Western University, in conjunction with the Cleveland VAMC. Eventually, Ward said, he will receive a robotic limb that his brain can control.

Recently, he had the opportunity to test a prototype that plugged into his electrodes, and for the first time in years, he experienced the feeling of his foot hitting the ground.

“It brought tears to the eyes of everyone in the room,” he said with a catch in his voice. ”My brain remembered the feeling and I was able to walk normally again.” Ward said another benefit was relief from his phantom limb pain he described as "like sciatic nerve pain."

And while his robotic leg is still in the development phase, Wade is participating again at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass, Co. This year he had the opportunity to try out another type of prosthetic – a G-3 Infinity Knee that is specifically designed to allow amputees to participate in outdoor activities. The knee features an advanced pneumatic/hydraulic shock that provides an enormous range of options for making micro-adjustments on the fly – extraordinarily useful for sports like downhill skiing. The knee is the brainchild of Brian Bartlett, who created the device after he lost his own leg.

“I’m just so grateful to have these opportunities,” Wade said of the chance to try the G-3 and the ability to participate at this year’s event, adding "Winter Sports Clinic is the Emmy Awards of sports events.”

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