Protosthetics Launches Amphibian Leg Prosthetic
Protosthetics made headlines about a year ago with their story of delivering a 3D-printed prosthetic to a 3-year-old named Jameson, who was born without full arms. Rather than paying around $30,000 for prosthetics, Protosthetics founder Cooper Bierscheid designed and produced a similar model for around $400, with a product cost from $6,500 to $8,000. He called it the PAL: printed artificial limb. Later that year, Bierscheid traveled to Haiti to deliver a prosthetic to a man who’d lost an arm and help him get work again. In the past year, Bierscheid won the Spark your Startup competition in Barnesville, which included $10,000 to build up a headquarters in their city. Joined by Josh Teigen in November, the two are building a humble headquarters in the space under Sue’s Dance Studio. The shelves are stacked with boxes, some filled with supplies, one a junk box of warped 3D printed models, others plaster molds of limbs used to create customized 3D printed prosthetics. What is scattered across the desks right now, however, is not the PAL – it’s legs. It’s the product of a recent pivot in the company, spurred on by a connection with Minneapolis-based prosthetist, Charles Kuffel.
Kuffel, who has been working in the prosthesis industry for over 25 years, was intrigued by the PAL after Teigen cold-called him to present the design. However, he said, only a small percentage of amputees need a below the elbow prosthesis. Instead he saw a far greater need in another area. “There are 1.9 million amputees in the U.S.,” Kuffel said. “Every one of those would benefit from a low cost shower leg. There’s a much larger population that could be using that.” A low cost shower leg, or the Amphibian Leg as Protosthetics is calling it, is a need because it’s a tool not covered by insurance. Insurance for prosthetics only covers activities of daily living (ADL) Kuffel explained; things like brushing your teeth, cooking, driving. When it comes to showering, insurance companies say that chairs and other resources are available. There isn’t enough need for a waterproof leg to be covered. It’s a different story when it comes to patients, Kuffel said. At hotels, for instance, there often is not a shower chair and patients have no other option than to shower sitting on the floor. In other outdoor activities, patients are hesitant to use their primary leg — often equipment that costs over $30,000. Kuffel said that he and other prosthesis try to help where they can. “We [clinical prosthetics] are forced to find open points, reinvent, wrestle up some ways people can use a prosthetics in their shower. We do it pro bono,” Kuffel said. If there was an affordable amphibian leg on the market, prosthetists would be able to provide a solution as well as show insurance companies that covering an amphibian leg need not cost tens of thousands of dollars, Kuffel said. That’s where Protosthetics comes in. They have developed a below knee prosthetic leg that is 3D printed with NinjaFlex material and is both flexible and waterproof. Bierscheid purposefully designed the leg with modular disassembly so that it’s easy to clean and pack in a suitcase. “Stand up in the shower and do what you love without ever worrying again about the consequences of wearing your primary leg in wet or dirty environments,” they write on their website.
Protosthetics is one of a few companies entering the waterproof leg market. Right now, Bierscheid and Tiegen are working on a leg for a specific patient who will try it out. This patient, who for liability reasons must remain anonymous, is a farmer and an avid pro-snowmobiler. He lost his leg in one of the power take off (PTO) of a piece of equipment, he said. With Protosthetics’ Amphibian leg, he’ll have a leg to wear while snowmobiling and can pack it when traveling to events. Teigen is currently attending the National Amputee Coalition conference in North Carolina where they will open up the amphibian leg to the first pre-orders. “Once we hit release, we’ll be selling everywhere,” Teigen said, adding that people are already requesting orders. Not all are thrilled on the prospect of 3D printed prosthetics, Kuffel said. Some prosthetists view it as competition, or as eliminating the role of the prosthetist, he said. He, however, has embraced it as simply the next evolution of an industry that desperately needs more attention. [“3D printing] is inevitable and I don’t think it’s bad,” he said. “It’s the revolution of prosthetics.” Photos by Emerging Prairie.By Marisa Jackels Original Story