JOHN HILTON'S gain is his cat's loss. When the Canberra amputee talks about the revolutionary robotic prosthetic he received last year, he can't get over how normal it makes him feel.
For one, he can now feel the difference between surfaces - concrete, grass, carpet - when he walks on his artificial leg, which is connected to a titanium rod inserted directly into the femur.
''And now I say I can feel I've stepped on the cat before it squeals,'' he laughs. ''Because I can feel things through my foot.''
It's just one little miracle among many since the retired public servant from Dunlop last year became the 47th patient in Australia to undergo a procedure known as osseointegration.
The operation was carried out by Sydney orthopaedic surgeon Munjed Al Muderis, who has his own remarkable story to tell as a former Iraqi refugee who arrived by boat at Christmas Island from Indonesia in 1999.
Dr Al Muderis, who spent a year working at the Canberra Hospital, has been in the news recently for performing the surgery on a British soldier who lost both his legs in a bomb blast in Afghanistan.
Asked if he felt Dr Al Muderis was a miracle-worker, Mr Hilton replied: ''Obviously he is. He really cares about his amputee patients.''
But the operation does come at a cost. Mr Hilton's procedure totalled about $200,000, with the amount covered by federal workplace insurer Comcare because he was travelling home from work in Melbourne in 1982 when he had an accident on his motorbike and had his left leg amputated.
For almost three decades since the accident, Mr Hilton was unable to walk more than 500 metres without extreme discomfort.
His former prosthetic leg caused chafing, blistering and sometimes bleeding. He would miss out on attending events if he knew he couldn't park close enough. He had the surgery with Dr Al Muderis in two stages last year.
Osseointegration helps above-the-knee amputees. The titanium rod is inserted in the bone and connected through an opening or stoma in the stump to an external prosthetic limb.
Mr Hilton said his robotic prosthesis includes a computer, scales and hydraulics which seek to work the limb as close to the real thing as possible. He said he could now walk in comfort.
He's even getting ready to walk the 10km course of The Canberra Times fun run in September.
''I'm walking five kilometres every morning and working on my fitness,'' he said. ''I can't run - they recommend you don't run because it puts too much pressure on the femur, but I think I'll be able to walk the 10 kilometres.
''I'm able to get out and enjoy life and do things I haven't been able to. It's made such a difference to my life. I wish it was something everyone could have.''