• Conrad Wiseman takes his first steps with his prosthetic legs alongside Inosi Bulimawera, a prosthetics and orthotics technician. (The Point)Source: The Point
Conrad Wiseman was devastated when he lost both legs to diabetes. Now a new program may see him walking on country again.
Danny Teece-Johnson

The Point
23 Mar 2016 - 4:08 PM  UPDATED 24 Mar 2016 - 7:38 PM

When Conrad Wiseman lost both legs, he thought he'd never be able to go walkabout on his country again. 

"Before I used to walk around, go hunting," the Western Arrente man told NITV.

The 55-year-old lost both limbs a few years ago due to complications from diabetes.

It's a common condition in the Indigenous community, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people more than three times more likely to have diabetes, according to a 2014 government health report. Consequently, Indigenous people are up to 38 times more likely to have a major amputation, a health study revealed. 

'I thought I'm not going to stay in a wheelchair the rest of my life.'

Believing he would never walk again, Mr Wiseman began to despair.

"I was a bit shame to go in the wheelchair to the shopping centre," he says.

"I thought about suicide a few times, because I thought I'm not going to stay in a wheelchair the rest of my life."

Now, a new concept at the Alice Springs Hospital's Prosthetics Department has given Mr Wiseman hope. 

Developed with Aboriginal patients and the community, the 'Deadly Legs' program pairs prosthetic limbs with Aboriginal art work and tailor-made patterns.

Pairing art and prosthetics to break stigma

The designs neutralise the stigma attached to wearing artificial limbs, according to prosthetic leg maker Jarrod Cahir.

Patients are hesitant to wear prosthetics and undertake rehabilitation because they feel embarrassed and dislike the attention they garner, he says. 

Mr Cahir says patients would often be "great walkers" in the hospital setting, but would discard their prosthetics when they returned home.

"That shame and stigma associated with having a disability was something I'd never experienced before," he says.

"We thought right, what can we do to try and make it something that they're proud of?"

It takes around 14 hours from measuring to fitting prosthetic on the patient. The last layer of the prosthesis can be any fabric and patients can choose a design that resonates with them.

'I was just pushing myself to be a man, to be strong, not to go down.'

Mr Wiseman chose a camouflage design for his prosthetics. 

"When they first gave me the leg, I was on top of the world," he says.

"It was real hard, shaky... But I was just pushing myself to be a man, to be strong, not to go down. 

"If you climb that ladder, you'll get there. If you don't, you fall down, you're stuck."

Mr Wiseman is still doing his rehab, and says he is determined to walk confidently again. 

"I'm real proud of what I'm doing," he says.

"If you've got the same thing that I'm going through, don't be shame.

"Be a man - walk. Be proud that you can walk."