As a corporal in the U.S. Army, Purple Heart recipient Brandon Korona faced missions with bravery and honor. Four years after suffering a traumatic injury while serving in Afghanistan, he’s calling on those same values as the second patient to undergo an experimental amputation of his lower left leg to prepare it for a robotic prosthetic under development in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The procedure and robotic prosthetic, known collectively as the Ewing Amputation, are expected to remedy the chronic pain that Korona, 26, has struggled with as a result of his injuries. In addition, he hopes his experience will help pave the way for other wounded veterans.
The six-hour procedure was performed by Matthew J. Carty, MD, director of BWH’s Lower Extremity Transplant Program in the Division of Plastic Surgery, and Eric Bluman, MD, PhD, of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital in April.
“Brandon was a great candidate for this procedure,” said Carty. “He’s young and motivated, and he served his country with bravery. We expect that this surgery and robotic prosthetic will give him a higher level of function and comfort than what is typically delivered with a standard below-the-knee amputation.”
If the procedure is successful, Korona’s brain will interact with the robotic prosthetic once it is in place, which is expected to occur within the year. This will enable him to perform complex actions and feel sensation, neither of which is possible with a traditional prosthetic.
The surgery connects the leg’s front and back muscles at the point of amputation. This preserves the link these opposing muscles normally have in a healthy leg. Sensors implanted in the muscles will send signals to the brain when the amputated leg moves. The goal is for the brain to power the robotic prosthetic.
‘The Right Decision’
In 2013, Korona, then 22, was injured in Afghanistan when the convoy he was riding in encountered a 250-pound improvised explosive device. His left leg and right ankle were severely injured.
In the months and years that followed, Korona underwent several surgeries and therapies to try to repair his injuries and relieve his chronic pain, but none were successful. A traditional amputation seemed like his last option – that is, until he was introduced to Carty, who told him about the Ewing Amputation. Carty had performed this pioneering procedure for the first time last July on patient Jim Ewing.
Korona and his wife, Chelsea, were overjoyed there was an option that could one day allow him to get back to doing things he loves, such as running and working out.
“We know this decision is the right decision now – for me, for us and for the rest of our lives,” Korona said.
The Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation at BWH is funding this research and Korona’s clinical care.
Since his surgery, Korona has been building his strength and engaging in physical rehabilitation at the Boston VA Healthcare System’s West Roxbury medical center. He’s also working toward a bachelor’s degree and plans to earn a master’s degree as well.
Korona has also been busy cheering on his favorite sports teams, including the Boston Celtics. During a playoff game last month, he was recognized during the team’s Heroes Among Us program, which honors people who have made an overwhelming impact on others.