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One Last, Year-End Look at the Passing Parade of People in the News : Walking on Air

December 26, 1985|DAVE LARSEN

View has revisited some of the people and places it reported on in the last several months. Among them:

--Hollywood's Masquers Club, which because of declining funds sold its building and moved.

--Jimmy and Ricky Sperry, blinded in an accident 11 years ago, who received cornea transplants in August.

--Balu Natarajan, who triumphed over 167 other youngsters to win the National Spelling Bee in June.

When last we looked in on Philip Penna, 76, early in the year, he finally had received his first pair of professionally made artificial legs--after 59 years of walking on two legs that he had fashioned himself.

Having both legs amputated below the knees after an accident while trying to hop a freight in Texas, Penna had made usable limbs for himself from tire rubber, roofing metal, discarded carpeting and other materials. Each homemade leg weighed nine pounds.

About every five years, as the limbs either wore out or the fit changed, he would make a new pair. This went on until Penna learned of the Prosthetic-Orthotic Laboratory in the UCLA Rehabilitation Center, which fits lightweight legs (three pounds each) made mostly of Fiberglas attached to feet of high-density foam.

On With the New

Penna also learned that the $6,808 bill would be covered by Medicare/Medi-Cal. After a series of visits for plaster impressions and alignment tests, he wound up one day walking in on his old artificial limbs, walking out on modern versions.

"Since then he has come back twice--more or less for his 6,000-mile lube and tune," said Albert Rappoport, senior prosthetist-orthotist. "His skin condition has been much improved and his circulation enhanced by the new fit."

Of equal importance to Penna is that he can move more easily at senior citizen dances and--when by himself in his El Sereno apartment--put on a Glenn Miller record and practice his steps.

It also makes taking care of the flower garden outside his home much easier.

"Because they were so heavy, I had to take off the old homemade ones whenever I wasn't using them," Penna said. "With these lightweight ones, I leave them on all day. Don't even know they are there."

Rappoport remembered one comment by his patient on his last visit: "I feel like a newborn baby."

And part of his last pair of homemade legs, which had been gathering dust in his home, has been put to a good use.

"I have a friend who goes around picking up aluminum cans for recycling," Penna said. "I gave him the metal from the old legs."

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