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These legs are made for running

New technology gives hope to Africa's amputees, many victims of landmines and crocodiles.

PRETORIA, South Africa — Muhammed Saib grins excitedly. In two hours he became taller by an inch, his shoe size went from 4 to 5 and he is wearing new, cool black sneakers.

“Look at my feet, they are bigger, bouncier, lighter!” he chortles, each step wider and steadier.

Saib, 13, just got new prosthetic feet and legs. Born with a rare bone disease, his legs end high on the thigh and he lacks a hip connection.

His new feet are state-of-the-art carbon fiber blades, a mini-version of those popularized by his fellow South African, paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius. The blades fit into flesh-colored polyurethane feet and are screwed into a titanium leg that looks like an erector set.

Saib chose the colors for his legs — blue, yellow and red — and fire-engine red for the sockets. Next he wants a Ferrari and a Lamborghini spray-painted on each socket. “That will be so cool,” he says.

His legs were fitted so quickly thanks to technology developed by Icelandic company OK Prosthetics (formerly Ossur) and pioneered in South Africa by its subsidiary ICExpress Progressive Prosthetics.

Conventional prosthetics, a laborious process where a mold is made from a plaster cast of the stump, take much longer — two to four months above the knee and two to four weeks below the knee. Meanwhile, the stump changes, requiring adjustments.

“The muscle deteriorates and you have to start from scratch,” said physiotherapist Tarina Coetzee.

Six months is the average wait for a prosthesis in South Africa. In Pretoria, where Mohammed lives, the waiting list at Steve Biko Academic hospital numbers 300.

Some 1,000 children need artificial limbs in South Africa, estimates ICExpress prosthetics expert Johan Snyders. In its Jumping Kids program, the company aims to fit 25 high school-age amputees with blades for free every year.

The ICExpress technique involves four steps, eight components and two hours.

First, a silicone sleeve that fits snugly is rolled onto the stump to protect its soft tissue from the hard prosthesis, preventing lesions.

The stump is covered with six layers of fiberglass and one of silicone. A resin is injected and pressurized with a hydrostatic balloon and a hand-pump. The resin sets in 15 minutes, resulting in a well-fitting and durable socket. A lock joins the prosthesis to the stump.