MONTREAL -- In a North American first, a new surgery at the McGill University Health Centre is giving amputees a better quality of life.

After a serious motorcycle accident four years ago, part of Michèle Forget's left leg had to be amputated. Forget underwent the surgery in September and is now living with less pain and better mobility.

“I came out of the operating room very excited, because I knew that my life had profoundly changed. I am less limited in my movements, I move more easily, I can wear the prosthesis for several hours without discomfort, participate in more varied sports activities," she said.

The surgery is called osseointegration, and it's now covered by Quebec insurance for those who qualify.

Osseointegration, which involves the insertion of a titanium rod into a leg stump, is seen in this image.

People living with an amputation can face a number of problems with the standard socket prosthesis, including chronic skin problems and pain because of friction between the limb and the prosthesis.

“Pain, skin infections, swelling, plenty of perspiration in the summer,” are characteristic of socket prostheses, explained Dr. Robert Turcotte, the orthopedic surgeon who performs the surgery at the MUHC.

Inspired by dental implants, the surgery involves inserting a titanium rod into a leg stump. That rod protrudes through the skin, latching onto a mechanical leg.

The result: a patient can walk more normally, face less pain and be less prone to skin infections.

Michèle Forget
Michèle Forget underwent the surgery in September as says it 'profoundly changed' her life.

Until now, anyone who wanted the implant surgery had to travel abroad, typically to Australia. The surgery and rehab would cost over $100,000 and patients had to pay for it out of their own pockets (in a few cases, provinces offered some financial support for the operation).

Quebec is now the only province in Canada and North America to offer, for three years, public coverage for certain amputees who are inconvenienced by a prosthetic and a socket. After surgery, the patient undergoes rehabilitation at the Gingras-Lindsay Readaptation Centre, part of the CIUSSS. The program costs $1.5 million per year and will benefit 50 patients annually.

"This innovative project demonstrates that we are on the lookout for the latest breakthroughs to improve the quality and effectiveness of care provided to the people of Quebec," said Health Minister Danielle McCann in a statement.

The implants “have the potential to fundamentally improve the quality of life of amputees and (to) shift the field of Canadian prosthetics,” according to a 2018 report from Orthotics Prosthetics Canada.

The osseointegration surgery can mainly be offered to post-traumatic amputated patients, such as people who have been in a road or work accident, those who have had cancer and for those who are still having difficulties with their prosthesis. Patients who have lost a limb as a consequence of diabetes or cardiovascular disease are not currently eligible.