From Pegleg Pete to Cutting Edge Prosthetics

Historical details come in all shapes and sizes. For my latest book, A Widow’s Salvation, a Civil War story set in an Army hospital, I had to find out about prosthetic devices. My hero suffers from PTSD and has nightmares about amputated body parts chasing him. My lucky stars aligned when I began researching the history of prosthetics and discovered the greatest advancements in the industry happened during the Civil War. Necessity became the mother of invention. But the prosthetic industry as a whole began long before the Civil War.

Prosthetic devices date back to the B. C. era.

Prosthetic devices date back to the B. C. era.

Amputations are sometimes the only option to slow infection in the body. In the early days, what was left of the limb was then burned to close the wound. Today’s treatments are vastly improved, as are the devices used to permit amputees to attain a normal life.

But the prosthetic industry began centuries before that. The earliest prosthetic device, made of wood and leather, was uncovered in Cairo, Egypt and dates back to 950 BC. During the Middle Ages, prosthetic devices began to be made from iron. Pegleg Pete and Captain Hook are two fictional examples of the crude prosthetic devices that were predominant in the early years, using materials readily available aboard ship.

In the 16th century, Ambroise Paré, the official surgeon of the French royalty, invented a prosthetic leg with locking knees, and hinged prosthetic hands. The 17th century took another step forward when Dutch surgeon Pieter Verduyn created a prosthesis for the leg that had hinges to increase normal movement.

history_prosthetics03During the 1840s, when anesthesia was introduced into the operating room, doctors could perform longer and better amputations, which improved the prospects of using a prosthetic device.

The Civil War brought about the most rapid advancements in the industry. The war dragged on for four long years, and the number of amputations was greater than at any other time in America’s history. James Hanger was one of the first amputees of the war, and developed a prosthetic for himself whittled from barrel staves. Other advancements were made by various individuals during the war, as well, increasing the wounded warrior’s productive return to society.history_prosthetics04

The industry has benefitted from current technology and now includes electronic sensors built into the prosthetic devices, offering a range of motion not before attainable. One needs only to view the blade-runners in the Special Olympics or watch Dancing With The Stars to appreciate how far this industry has advanced. Companies like Adidas and Nike have entered into the industry, creating prostheses specifically for athletes. In fact, Olympic officials declined Oscar Pistorious’ bid to perform in the regular Olympics, stating his prosthetics gave him an unfair advantage over his competition.

How far the industry has come from iron hooks and barrel staves.

Becky Lower 10-1-15

In 1862 America, the Civil War has raged for twelve months. Pepper Fitzpatrick Brown’s heart was broken when her husband died with the first volley at Manassas. Now she’s a widow raising three young boys and plans to honor his sacrifice by volunteering at the army hospital.

When Colonel Elijah Williams can grab a few minutes to nap between his duties as head surgeon at MacDougall Army Hospital in the Bronx, his sleep is invaded with nightmares of the atrocities he’s seen. His life has narrowed to nothing but the bloody war … until he meets Pepper Brown. But her father is concerned Elijah doesn’t have the best intentions, and Pepper is fearful of loving and losing again.

It’s hard to find happiness in a war-torn United States, but these two stand a fighting chance—if they can save what’s left of their hearts.

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