WesternU Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students learned firsthand about cutting-edge prosthetic technology and their profession’s vital role in inspiring patients.

Representatives from Hanger Orthopedic Group visited the “Prosthetics, Orthotics and Gait” class of second-year DPT students and demonstrated the Genium Bionic Prosthetic System, which was released in June.

“It is very valuable for the students to hear a patient’s perspective on using a prosthesis,” said Dayle Chakerian Armstrong, PT, MS, DPT, associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy Education, part of the College of Allied Health Professions.

These students are being introduced to cutting-edge technology, said Phil Conley, certified prosthetist for Hanger.

“A number of these individuals will work with amputees,” he said. “It’s great information to get in front of this group firsthand.”

Hanger patient John Siciliano, one of the first people to use the Genium system, demonstrated how the leg works. The system utilizes a microprocessor-controlled knee that anticipates movements and adapts instantaneously in order to function as much like a natural leg as possible.

Siciliano was a journalism and theater major at Point Park College (now University) in Pittsburgh in 1993 when he was in a traffic collision that crushed his right leg. He lost his leg above the knee, but initially put on a brave face for his family. After weeks of visitors, he found himself alone and began to face his fears.

“Why did this happen to me?” he said. “Girls will never look at me. I’m disgusting right now. I was really sad. Here I am with this attitude. I’m down. I’m angry at life.”

He then met his physical therapist, who had the challenge of motivating him. His PT gave him a brochure showing two Paralympic athletes running track with prosthetic legs.

“That brochure gave me so much hope,” he said. “It took awhile, but I finally got out of the hospital and my attitude changed.”

He sat on his sister’s back porch on the Fourth of July and took in the world.

“The sky is blue today. Those are some green trees,” he said. “I realized how happy I was to be alive.”

He began to train and qualified for the Paralympics at the 1995 U.S. Nationals, breaking a national record in the process. But during the 200 meter dash in the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta, his prosthetic leg flew off and he fell down. He then got up and hopped across the finish line to thunderous applause.

Siciliano also has a successful acting career, appearing in the television shows “ER,” NCIS,” “Scrubs,” “The Young and the Restless,” “Days of Our Lives” and others.

He works with many charities, encouraging other amputees to pursue their dreams. He encouraged DPT students to make connections with Hanger and other resources to benefit their patients.

“I enjoy speaking to the students,” Siciliano said. “I always get really excited about you guys because you are the future. I know if it wasn’t for a physical therapist, none of this happens. I love what you do. You’re changing a lot of people’s lives.”