Engineer builds a new life

(China Daily)| Updated : 2022-06-01

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Liang Kaiyu, 30, from Liangshan county, Jining, Shandong province, walks in a park with his customized running blade. In January 2020, he lost his left leg above the knee in an explosion when testing a self-built automatic electronic motor. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Overcoming accident that cost him his leg, Liang Kaiyu has developed a customized artificial limb.

For engineer Liang Kaiyu, one thing is clear: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Losing his left leg above the knee in an explosion when testing his self-built automatic electronic motor in January 2020, the 30-year-old used his engineering skills to make his prosthetic limb more comfortable and powerful than a real leg.

"Getting over the darkest moment in my life, my artificial limb is now a part of me, which makes me stand out from other people," says Liang from Liangshan county, Jining city, Shandong province.

He has become an overnight internet sensation on short-video streaming platforms, such as Bilibili, Douyin and Kuaishou, for sharing his designs and upgrades on his high-tech prosthetic leg to make it close to, or even better than, a real one. He currently has more than 41,000 followers on Bilibili.

After his optimism and courage made national headlines, Liang has gone viral on social media. On micro-blogging platform Sina Weibo, his story garnered more than 21 million views so far. Many users refer to him by the nickname "Iron Leg Man".

"What amazes me most is not your skills, but your confidence after such a trauma," a Bilibili user named Modaren says.

Liang says: "I hope my videos can be inspiring to people struggling through tough times, just like I have been through. Even a smile will make it worth it."

Since late 2020, he has customized and upgraded his high-tech prosthesis, including fitting a shock absorber and installing a charger port.

One of the latest upgrades is the addition of colored LED lights to his running blade. The video of him running at night has been viewed more than 111,000 times on Bilibili.

The LED lights can be connected via Bluetooth to a smartphone and change in color as they react to music, according to Liang.

"Although China has millions of amputees, people with a prosthesis are still a rare sight on the street. My video may, in some way, encourage them," the man says, adding that prostheses can look cool.

Bad breaks

Before the explosion, Liang opened a manufacturing plant in his hometown and lived a contented life with his son and his pregnant wife.

As an engineer, building things was a hobby in his spare time. When he saw that a foreign engineer had developed an autonomous e-bike, he found the materials online and decided to build one himself.


Wearing his high-tech prosthetic leg, Liang visits Jingzhong Temple, a scenic spot in Liangshan county. [Photo provided to China Daily]

It took him more than a year to finally make it, but he was not satisfied and, in January 2020, he tried to optimize it.

"I tried a gyroscope sensor with a larger rotor and higher rotating speed to make the self-driving function more stable, but I made a mistake and the explosion occurred," Liang recalls.

"When I regained consciousness after several seconds, I found myself lying on the ground and then I realized my leg was gone.

"I was quite calm and even recorded a video, and kept apologizing to my wife and son and said goodbye to the world," he adds.

When Liang underwent his amputation, his wife was giving birth to their second son in the same hospital.

After being in hospital for more than 20 days, he returned home and was ready for the real test-life without his left leg.

"Physical recovery is the first step. Psychological acceptance matters more, which takes much longer," Liang says.

Closing his company, he set aside one year to accept his new body.

"It is my wife and my two sons, who keep motivating me. I must persist and giving up is not an option," Liang says.

Every night at about 2 or 3 am, phantom limb pains disturb his sleep.

Thirty-six days after losing his leg, Liang, literally, got back in the saddle, not to drive, but to feel the roaring engine once again in hope that normality would, one day, return.

About two months after the accident, he got his prosthetic leg and, on the 100th day, he could walk without crutches.

Finding hope

On short-video platforms, Liang saw other people with physical challenges who live no differently from other people. They ride bicycles, dance and even ski, using their prosthetic limbs.

"Inspired by them, I started to post videos about my daily life," Liang says.

He adds that short-video platforms help people with similar situations find one another and communicate.

"Although I don't know who they are, or what they have been through, their supportive, kind and encouraging words have lifted me up," he says.

Liang's focus is now on making the new leg comfortable.

"I have experienced some inconveniences and awkward moments while using the prosthetic leg, which has made me think about how to modify it," Liang says.

Security checks when traveling, especially at airports, can be a bit problematic.

"Although invited to a private room for further screening, I still feel quite awkward taking off my trousers in front of several guards," Liang says.

To avoid such incidents, he spent several days in early May upgrading his prosthesis.

Through design, modeling and manufacturing, he made a coupling device to connect the socket of the leg with the prosthetic knee.

"With the gadget, people like me can take the leg off in one second without having to remove a screw," Liang explains.

"The security check while traveling is just one scenario; others include trying on clothes in fitting rooms, shoes at shopping malls, and changing from 'feet' to a running blade before jogging."

To know about the structure and system of the prosthetics better, he disassembled some secondhand prosthetic limbs that were made in China and abroad, which cost him hundreds of thousands of yuan.

"I want to let more people know about these high-tech prosthetics, which are comfortable and safer to wear. It can boost confidence with every step," Liang says.

"The only thing is that the cost is unaffordable for most families, usually ranging from 200,000 yuan ($29,900) to 800,000 yuan," he says.

Liang adds that due to the small market, there are few companies in China investing in the research and development of such prosthetics.

To advance functional performance and help amputees maintain or regain their freedom of movement, Liang has provided his experience and suggestions to several prosthetics companies.

"If there is a good opportunity, I want to make high-tech prosthetics accessible and affordable to more amputees in China," Liang says.