ORVILLE, Ohio (WKYC) -- There is an ironic benefit to war. So many veterans are surviving horrific explosions that it's prompted prosthetic companies to put new devices on the fast track.
Sheri Eichar, of Orville, is grateful for that. She's not a veteran but benefitted from a new device that got her out of a wheelchair and back on her feet. But getting there was a long road.
Sheri was born with a partial patella in both knees. She required several surgeries throughout her life. Six years ago she had a minor operation to remove bone spurs on her left knee. The tiny incision became infected with MRSA, or methicillin resistant staph. It started Sheri on a journey that would include sixty surgeries, four amputations, and several near death experiences.
Sheri is not the kind of woman who understands the meaning of "can't do." Despite the birth defect in her knees, she became a gymnast. She married her college sweetheart, Brent Eichar, and became an active mother of three. But that all changed six years ago when her knee became infected with deadly staph.
"When it jumps to your blood stream now you're talking about a killer bacteria that could stop your heart and shut down your organs," Sheri says.
The first year, she went through sixteen surgeries to control the infection. After the last, her life would change. "The doctor that did the surgery went in and removed an abscess the size of his hand and he said this is not good it's in the bone and we were just shocked cause he said I don't see how you're going to save this leg," Sheri recalls.
Sheri lost her leg above the knee but was determined to walk again with a prosthetic leg. That's when she learned her health insurance wouldn't make a dent in the cost.
"They can cost fifty to sixty thousand dollars and to my complete surprise found out that we had a four thousand dollar limit and they said that wouldn't even cover the foot," Brent says.
Sheri wanted a prosthetic that would enable her to continue her active life. It's called a c-leg. A computerized leg that uses microprocessors to allow the leg to swing freely. The insurance wouldn't cover it.
"They were allowing me to have a second class prosthetic which is one where you walk and you have to lock unlock while you walk which is not for my age," Sheri says.
"We're thinking at that point we're going to put a mortgage on the house are we gonna take out a loan and just make payments we'll just do what we have to do."
That's when Brent had an idea. "Just out of total curiosity I typed in c-leg on Ebay and up comes a picture of four of these legs for sale," Brent says.
Brent and Sheri bought a c-leg off of Ebay for $7,000. They took it to Yanke Bionics in Akron for it to be fitted. Yanke Bionics had to inform the c-leg manufacturer, Otto Bock, how the Eichar's purchased the device. Yanke Bionics CPO Dave Reed said in an email that Otto Bock informed Ebay the c-leg is class two prescription medicine and therefore is illegal to sell or buy them on Ebay. Yanke and Otto Bock also told the Eichar's that their leg had no warranty because of the way it was purchased. However, Ebay still has not pulled c-legs off the auction site.
The Amputee Coalition of America says prosthetic components are generally not reused in the United States because of legal considerations. However, used prosthetic limbs may be disassembled and the components shipped to developing nations for use by landmine victims and other individuals in need.
Sheri was furious that some amputees in this country may not be able to get one. "What is going to happen to this leg, thrown in the trash? Here I am sitting in a wheelchair can't get insurance to cover a leg this is what's so wrong with our health insurance," She says.
She learned that the c-leg she purchased was sold by the son of a man who died from diabetes. The leg was never used.
Meanwhile, Sheri's problems were far from over. The infection returned. "I started wearing a prosthetic learning to walk and then I got sick again, two more inches were infected." For more than five years she battled the staph infection. But this time, she would lose the entire leg and her odds of walking again were slim.
The surgery took place this past January and kept Sheri in the hospital more than three months.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan pushed the prosthetic industry to improve technology to help wounded war veterans. Sheri would benefit by a new device called the Helix 3-D Hip system. Possibly one of the greatest advancements in prosthetics and the closest thing Sheri would get to a normal walk in life.
Sheri went back to Yanke Bionics and was fitted for the new device. It required precise measurements and a mold to be taken of her lower torso for a harness she would wear that would be connected to the hip device. Once it was ready, Sheri put it on and and within minutes was back on her feet. Brent was stunned, "to watch her put that that leg on and within three minutes showing off on the parallel bars that she could propel this leg using her hip was amazing."
Sheri's leg is made of three components. The Helix Hip, a new c-leg that insurance covered because she'd already had one and the foot. Total cost, about $60,000. But independence is priceless. "It is a miracle to be able to get out of that chair and be able to throw my hip forward and throw this leg forward and have my arms free again in the kitchen. I am able to walk clear across a soccer field and watch my son play soccer. He couldn't even get a wheelchair across the field." Sheri credits her faith and family for keeping her on her feet.
"There have been tough times, no doubt about it, but this is a woman that doesn't know the meaning of give up," Brent says.
As for her original c-leg, Brent and Sheri sold it on Ebay for $1500 so someone else can walk. They also used Ebay to get Sheri's wheelchair and canes.
During the original insurance fight, Brent, who is Vice President for Certified Angus Beef and the person who arranges healthcare benefits for all 100 employees there, convinced his health insurance provider to cover the cost of the c-leg. They were willing to do it for him, but he refused unless they would remove the cap for all 100 employees. The insurance company agreed. He encourages people to be their own healthcare advocates.
Sheri's next goal is to ride a tandem bike with her husband. Also the couple is involved in pushing the Prosthetic Parity bill before Congress that would require insurance companies cover prosthetics at the same level as other medical devices. They're hoping the bill is not absorbed by the healthcare reform effort.