MUNSTER — When Cassie Janas walked across a Westville stage earlier this month, high school diploma in hand, her mom, Nicole, stood up from her wheelchair and gave Cassie a big hug.

It was an embrace that almost didn't happen.

Three years ago, Nicole Janas, a mother of four from LaPorte, developed blood clots in her legs and aorta. She spent three months in the hospital. Doctors tried to save her legs, but couldn't.

She got a pair of basic prosthetic legs that fit for a while, until they didn't. They were so uncomfortable, she said, that she mostly used a wheelchair.

She went to her prosthetists, Vikram Choudhary and Felix Martinez at Bionic Prosthetics & Orthotics in Munster, and made them pledge they would have her standing for her daughter's graduation.

They tried hydraulic legs, but they felt too "squishy," Janas said, like she was "walking on a pillow." Then they outfitted her with microprocessor prosthetics — and she was sold. The technology electronically mimics real ankle movement and is good for, say, going up and down stairs or ramps, Choudhary said.

"It actually feels comfortable," Janas said last week at Bionic, where the 40-year-old was getting the fitting of her prosthetics adjusted, as she walked while holding onto metal bars. "When I relax, the foot relaxes."

The technology now has a self-contained battery and is more wearable than it used to be, Choudhary said. It also connects by Bluetooth to an iPhone app, so Choudhary can monitor Janas' progress remotely.

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Janas can drive with the prosthetics on as well.

The legs are expensive, though — $35,000 (covered by Medicare and a secondary private insurance in Janas' case).

"The original feet I had were like bicycles, and the hydraulics were like moving up to a motorcycle," she said. "And, from that, moving up to these was like a Ferrari."

She plans to go hiking, a major Janas family activity, something that wouldn't have been possible a few weeks ago.

"It feels the movement of my leg," she said. "When I'm walking up a ramp, it can tell by the swing of my foot that I'm going uphill, and that's when it starts to adjust for that. When I'm on a flat surface, it takes a few steps to readjust and I'm back on a flat surface."

Most important, she was there to hug her daughter as the 18-year-old graduated from Westville High School on June 8. If not for the prosthetics, Janas said, she would "been in a wheelchair off to the side, not able to see much."

She invited her prosthetists to her daughter's graduation party.

"I want them to meet the family they did this for," Janas said.


Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.