Dancer gains the freedom to walk, helped by technology and our CIUSSS

Luca Patuelli tests his computerized C-Brace devices at Constance-Lethbridge, flanked by Orthotics and Prosthetics Technician Geneviève Levert (left) and Physiotherapist Jessy-Ann Lapointe.
Luca Patuelli tests his computerized C-Brace devices at Constance-Lethbridge, flanked by Orthotics and Prosthetics Technician Geneviève Levert (left) and Physiotherapist Jessy-Ann Lapointe.

Luca Patuelli’s lifelong dream has always been to walk. And on July 15, he took steps toward that dream on “new legs.” After entering the Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre on crutches, he exited a few hours later by placing one foot ahead of the other in a regular gait.

Mr. Patuelli reached that dramatic moment thanks to computerized leg braces and the dedicated staff at CIUSSS West-Central Montreal.

“I got my new legs,” he wrote on his Facebook page alongside a video of the event. “Today is where teamwork, technology, dedication and persistence came together.”

Mr. Patuelli was outfitted with the C-Brace, a microprocessor-controlled leg orthosis that increases his mobility and his range of movement. Only about 10 such braces are in use in Canada, and Mr. Patuelli is the first to be fitted with one on each leg.

Their impact will be felt in his day-to-day life. Mr. Patuelli, who was born with a neuromuscular disorder known as arthrogryposis, is a speaker and break-dancer who has travelled the world and appeared on shows such as So You Think You Can Dance Canada. The 37-year-old Montrealer is also the father of two young children.

The C-Brace, which is made by the German prosthetics company Ottobock, uses a microprocessor located at the side of the knee that continuously monitors Mr. Patuelli’s knee angle, his shifting body weight and the speed of his gait. According to Mr. Patuelli, the orthoses assist his legs with resistance, allowing him to develop muscles he’s never used before.

“He always wanted to walk normally but was told it wasn’t possible because of his condition. These two orthoses now make it possible,” says Jessy-Ann Lapointe, a Physiotherapist at the Constance-Lethbridge site. As a dancer and global traveller, Mr. Patuelli is also setting a high-profile example to others, she adds.

“He shows what it’s possible to do, even with a handicap,” she says. “Achieving your dreams takes hard work and dedication. What he’s done is inspiring.”

The project presented new challenges for the Technical Aids Service at Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay, a member facility of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal. In addition to the usual process of moulding, fitting and testing the orthoses, specialists had to be trained to learn how to program and adjust the settings on the computerized braces.

The team also put in long hours to obtain funding for the C-Brace from the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ), working in cooperation with our CIUSSS’s Logistics team.

“Everyone showed patience and perseverance. They were dedicated to working with Luca to achieve this goal,” says Catalina Estevez, Program Manager of the Technical Aids Service at Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay.

They knew their efforts were worth it when they saw Mr. Patuelli walk outside the Constance-Lethbridge site on July 15. Prior to getting the C-Braces, he propelled himself by thrusting his two feet forward at the same time while leaning on his crutches. Mr. Patuelli was also able to walk short distances by taking steps on his own, but his conventional braces meant his knees were locked and he experienced pressure on his joints, he says. The new braces help him walk more naturally, with less wear-and-tear on his body.

“It was something special to see. We felt a real sense of pride and accomplishment,” says Geneviève Levert, an Orthotics and Prosthetics Technician at the Constance-Lethbridge site who worked with Mr. Patuelli.

“Seeing someone who’s young, active and motivated and knowing that his life will be better for years to come is really gratifying. We’re so happy for him,” she adds.

Mr. Patuelli, who goes by “Lazylegz,” knows he faces a long road ahead to adapt to his new orthoses. But then, his life has been built on overcoming obstacles. He underwent 16 surgeries before the end of his adolescence, and his motto is “No Excuses, No Limits.” On the day he walked out of Constance-Lethbridge in his new leg braces, he wore a t-shirt that read: “Proving people wrong since I was born.”

“My dream has been to walk. These braces are part of my dream,” he says, adding that he couldn’t have reached this point without the support of the team at Constance-Lethbridge. “They believed in this and they believed in me. Everyone was determined to make this happen,” he says. “I’m really proud and honoured to be part of it.”