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Healing Heroes: Treatment both simple, complex reshapes lives of combat warriors

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TWC News: Healing Heroes: Treatment both simple, complex reshapes lives of combat warriors
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For retired Marine Sgt. Eric Morante, all of the small steps over the last five years have added up to big strides.

"I actually thought I was going to be wheelchair bound," he said.

During a deployment to Iraq, the 27-year-old lost his right leg above the knee.

"The suicide bomber came underneath the overpass that we were standing on, and he detonated while we were on top," Morante said.

Now, he leans on what's called a “C-Leg.”

"Eric can give it signals so it knows what to do basically, so it knows when to lock, knows when to stay in certain positions," Lead Prosthetist John Ferguson said.

The C-Leg technology itself has been around for more than 10 years. Recent advancements have helped combat veterans like Morante face an unlikely foe.

"I wouldn't go out on rainy days, just taking out the trash on a rainy day that would even scare me,” Morante said.

Now, he's one of about three dozen service members in the country testing the waters with a $35,000 waterproof C-Leg.

"I'm sitting in the pool right now with the actual leg that I walk on every day. It's super amazing to me," Morante said.

Morante is one of more than 800 troops injured on the warfront who have access to technology and treatment on the forefront of medicine.

A rehab facility just across the way from Fort Sam Houston's San Antonio Military Medical Center is known as the Center for the Intrepid. It’s the place where Eric got new found freedom.

However, other amputees, like 22-year-old Marine Cpl. Sebastian Gallegos, have been freed using a tool that costs less than $35. He was wounded in Afghanistan.

I remember when I first got hit, it actually feels like your arm is still there,” Cpl. Gallegos said. “I was trying to climb out of the canal thinking that my arm was still there."

It’s a condition called phantom limb pain.

"The brain thinks there's something there, so it still sends those nerve signals that cause pain," Occupational Therapy Supervisor Lisa Smurr Walters said.

Treatment for phantom limb pain centers on illusion. A simple mirror is used to trick the brain into thinking the nonexistent limb is still there, to move into a position that helps ease the pain.

"Somebody tells you that you're going to move your hand in a mirror and you're pain is going to go away. You're like, ‘I'm sure it's going go away,’" Cpl. Gallegos said.

It’s technology that’s putting a loss of a limb hand-and-hand with limitless possibilities.

"For us this has been a huge push forward and an exciting one,” Ferguson said. “A very unfortunate circumstance that none of us want or asked for, but things have moved forward and a lot of people will benefit because of it."

Even though the Center for the Intrepid is relatively new, the world renowned burn center at Fort Sam Houston has had a long standing reputation in burn care.

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