Jennifer Galos of Phoenixville describes the birth of her first child as “easy.” A full-term baby weighing 5 pounds, 4 ounces, Grace Galos came along via standard delivery with no forceps at Paoli Hospital in June 2007. “Her head was elongated at birth, but we were told not to worry. It would adjust by itself,” she recalls.
But when the problem persisted for five months, a plastic surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recommended a prosthetic helmet to help reform the infant’s head. “I cried,” says Galos. “I was petrified and worried about what people would think or say.”
Galos took Grace to Ability Prosthetics and Orthotics in Exton. “They had all the state-of-the-art technology for creating the helmet,” she says. “They scanned Grace’s head and sent the results to Boston Children’s Hospital the same day.”
The helmet was custom made in the hospital. “Grace cried when they first put it on. It looked like a baby football helmet. But she never complained after that,” says Galos.
For the next five-and-a-half months, little Grace wore her helmet 23 hours a day. Her head grew so fast that she went through two helmets and had weekly checkups at Ability to constantly readjust the helmet to accommodate her growth. What might have been a traumatic ordeal turned out to be a positive experience.
“The staff at Ability Prosthetics and Orthotics were incredibly supportive,” says Galos. “They were wonderful with Grace, and they answered all of my questions. I never had to say, ‘Can you squeeze me in?’ They always made time for me.”
Galos and her husband saw improvement on a weekly basis. In less than six months, the helmet came off permanently, in time for Grace’s first birthday. “When you’re a first-time mother and your child has to wear a helmet, you feel so alone,” says Galos. “But the people at Ability walked me through every step of the way.”
Galos’ positive experience was not a coincidence. When Jeffrey Brandt and Jeffrey Quelet founded Ability Prosthetics and Orthotics in 2004, they were determined to break the mold and create a new model for an old practice. A resident of Chester County, Brandt worked at several prosthetics and orthotics facilities following his formal training and certification by the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists (AAOP).
“I was frustrated by the lack of efficiency in basic customer service, such as ordering, insurance authorization and billing,” says Brandt. “I wanted to create a company that would offer stronger patient and physician satisfaction through education, compassion and top-notch care.”
That opportunity came along when Quelet, an engineer who also worked in orthotics and prosthetics, handed Brandt a $1 bill and said, “Here’s the first dollar to start your new company.”
Seven years later, Brandt opened his first office in Gettysburg. The following year, Quelet, who is now vice president of Ability, joined him to open two offices in Maryland. In September 2007, they opened a fourth office in Exton. What sounds like an empire is actually a deeply committed team of 14 employees, all of whom are certified by the American Board of Orthotics and Prosthetics.
“Our model is actually simple,” says Brandt. “We don’t make our own devices. Because we have no on-site fabrication lab, we are able to focus on patient evaluation and education. Plus, we have laser imaging technology that allows us to scan a patient’s body, e-mail the image to a manufacturer, and start the fabrication process before the patient has left the parking lot. The prosthetic is available within a week or sooner, compared to the industry average of three weeks.”
Brandt’s formula for success includes “no paper trail.” Everything is computerized so records can be quickly shared and stored by physicians and prosthetics manufacturers.
“We work with more than 50 manufacturers to bring the highest level of solutions to our patients,” says Brandt. “But we don’t rely on our manufacturers to make clinical decisions for us. We’re very proactive in deciding what is best for our patients.”
In Grace Galos’ case, being able to scan the infant’s head on a weekly basis documented improvements as they occurred and indicated where the foam lining of the helmet needed to be shaved down to encourage continued growth.
Advancements in technology have dramatically improved the appearance and functionality of all prosthetic and orthotic devices, including breast forms for mastectomy patients. “While most post-mastectomy products are available in off-the-shelf sizes, we scan the chest and determine the best possible breast form that will match the patient’s healthy breast in size, shape and weight,” says Brandt.
Along with laser technology, the greatest innovation in prosthetics is the microprocessor, which restores normal movement to people with artificial limbs. Brandt was recently certified in the Proprio, the world’s first bionic foot and ankle system.
“My grandfather returned from World War II with a wooden leg from the knee down,” he says. “We now can offer knee and foot and ankle units containing microprocessors that provide a full range of motion. Any time an amputee stands, sits or uses the stairs, this new technology adjusts the foot to the correct angle instantaneously. It’s not just for the athlete, it’s to improve quality of life for the average amputee.”
High-tech prosthetics made headlines this year when the International Association of Athletic Federations ruled that double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorious can compete in the Beijing 2008 Olympics wearing his Cheetah Flex-Foot—curved, carbon-fiber prosthetic legs. Due to a congenital deformity, both of Pistorious’ legs were amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old. He set world records in the Paralympics, but didn’t draw attention until he started competing with able-bodied runners in 2004. In the qualifying races in 2007, Pistorious ran 400 meters in 46.90 seconds.
Although prosthetics are often associated with war injuries and the aging process, protective devices are regularly prescribed for young athletes following sports injuries. When a local high school student suffered a nasal fracture while playing basketball, Ability designed a custom face guard so he could continue to participate in sports while healing.
Brandt’s close relationship with his grandfather spurred his interest in the prosthetics field during his senior year at Penn State. “I volunteered at a rehab center,” he says. “Following my graduation, I enrolled in a prosthetics technician program in Spokane, Wash.”
For the next three years, Brandt made artificial limbs and braces for companies in Virginia and Pennsylvania. He then pursued graduate studies at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. During his residency, Brandt specialized in cerebral palsy, pediatric scoliosis and cerebral vascular accident patients. He also participated in pediatric prosthetics clinics at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children before completing his residency in Wilmington, Del., under David Showers, former director of the orthotics and prosthetics department at the University of Pennsylvania.
Ability supports the Special Olympics and Special Love for Children with Cancer. Brandt has also established a scholarship at Northwestern in his grandfather’s name. “When I founded the company, I wanted to recognize a social commitment,” he says. “I wanted to give back.”
To learn more about Ability Prosthetics and Orthotics, visit abilitypo.com.
Power of the Mind
When a monkey successfully used the first brain-operated mechanical arm last May, it was just a blip on the evening news. But for future victims of spinal chord injury, it could mean the difference between a life of dependence on caregivers and one of unlimited freedom. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University implanted a tiny grid the size of a large freckle containing 100 electrodes running from the monkey’s motor cortex to a computer. The computer was programmed to translate commands from a monkey’s brain to a mechanical arm. Within days, the animals learned how to reach for food just by thinking, sending their mental impulses to the mechanical arms via computer. What does this mean for those with spinal chord injuries? It shows that brain-controlled prosthetics are technically within reach. They will someday allow patients with severe motor deficits to interact and communicate in a more natural and intuitive manner.
8 Orthotic and Prosthetic Solutions
1. Microprocessor-controlled feet, knees and arms
2. Post-mastectomy forms
3. Ultra-lightweight leg and back braces
4. Diabetic foot orthotics
5. Cranial helmets
6. Scoliosis and spinal bracing
7. Hip, knee and foot bracing
8. High-activity prosthetics