Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInEmail this to someone

“No, I’m not satisfied with my legs. I mean, I’m not satisfied with a cup of coffee. I think you can always get better. If we were satisfied, we would’ve stopped hundreds of years ago. There’s always something we can do to improve. These legs are still limited. At the end of the day it’s still a prosthetic knee, it’s not a human knee and even a human knee has issues because if the human knee was the way to go then they wouldn’t do knee replacements.” – United States Army veteran, alpine skier and double-leg amputee Heath Calhoun

This weekend, a good chunk of the world’s innovators flew down to Texas to talk about what’s next at the enormous annual meet up known as South by Southwest (SXSW). This year, the interactive tech scene featured major players in artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, virtual reality — and, additionally, it brought some very accomplished U.S. military veterans to the table to discuss these things and more (drones, healthcare, eliminating military casualties for good).

And, of course, prosthetics.

In a session hosted by Ottobock, a German company that develops and manufactures the artificial parts, Heath Calhoun was joined by U.S. Army veteran and Paralympian Melissa Stockwell, a moderator, and U.S. Air Force pilot Christy Wise — the first female leg amputee to ever return to flight — to discuss their stories, what’s needed, who “Xena” and “Bolt” are*, and what could come next.

“Almost 13 years later I’ve done more with one leg than I ever would’ve done with two,” said Stockwell. “It’s about accepting it and seeing what you still can do.”

(The former officer won a bronze medal in the triathlon at Rio this past summer on September 11)s

“So the legs we wear right now, think about a really nice car,” said Stockwell. “A really nice car runs 10, 20, 30 … 50 thousand dollars. But this is how we get around and this is our leg — as veterans we are very, very lucky that the VA [Department of Veterans Affairs], the DoD [Department of Defense] provides these legs as long as we use them.”

“Insurance battles are frequent in the civilian world and we are extremely fortunate that we are able to go through the system and get what we need.”

“For me, I enjoy showing my leg off, I’m proud of how I lost it and the more robotic you look the cooler you are. When a kid says, ‘Hey look mom, it’s a robot!’ you’re like ‘Yessss!'”

To watch the full session, click the following Facebook video embedded below:


For more on how the VA is enabling easier access to the benefits like the ones mentioned by Stockwell — through the new online portal, — check out the SXSW session “How Digital Identity Is Enabling Access to the VA”.

  • – “Xena” and “Bolt” are Wise’s pet names for her different prosthetic legs.