In Lexington, Ky., located off the eastern side of the University of Kentucky campus, there’s a small office. On the outside it could be mistaken for any number of different kinds of small businesses that are peppered throughout the city, but inside people are doing a special kind of sophisticated work. The experts working there have been described as “part MacGyver, part mad scientist, part therapist.” The people who come to them are those who have suffered losses and are seeking to be made whole again. The place is called Hi-Tech Artificial Limbs and you can learn more about what they’re making in the photo essay below.
Founded in 1990, Hi-Tech Artificial Limbs is creating cutting-edge prosthetic limbs but the heart of the business is helping people. The company was started by Jim McClanahan, a certified prosthetist and an amputee, and Maurice Adkins, a fellow amputee who befriended Jim as his patient at another practice. Today, though Maurice has passed away Jim still serves as Managing Owner and President while Maurice’s son, Shayne Adkins, also a certified prosthetist, is Clinical Director and Vice President.
Jim describes his entrance into the field of prosthetics as happening very organically. “I lost my leg but then all of a sudden got placed into something that came very naturally to me,” he says. Three years after losing his leg to cancer, Jim visited the only prosthetist in Lexington for repairs on his artificial leg and was offered a job. Shortly after that, he began his formal education as a prosthetist at Northwestern University. He describes the training program as being very welcoming to amputees, as they would have an intrinsically better understanding of what their patients are going through and empathy is a key component of being a prosthetist. While Shayne, also educated at Northwestern, is not an amputee, he certainly understands the emotional component of what’s required, saying, “You have to match your compassion with your will to help that person.” Then jokingly, “So that’s why I figure my first degree in psychology wasn’t quite wasted before switching to prosthetics.”
The process of creating an artificial limb for a patient takes about four weeks, though Jim and Shayne say that many first-time patients walk through their doors without a firm idea of what they’re getting into. “The misconception is that we just go and pull a left large leg off of the wall like it’s Walmart,” Shayne says. “People even come in and say ‘I guess I’m here to get my leg.’ There’s in fact an evaluation and everything that we make is a combination of 15 or 20 major decisions – muscle strength, limb length, age, there are so many things to consider.” Jim adds, “People are emotionally confused when they come in the first time.”
Molding the residual limb and testing prototypes are integral parts of the process. “You’re marrying something manmade to someone’s body,” Shayne says. “And just like in real life, if that marriage isn’t good then it’s not going to last long.” Creating a prosthesis requires knowledge beyond just anatomy, but also understandings of kinetics, biomechanics, and physiology. One must be able to match a person’s movements, the gait of their walk, and the alignment of their limbs in order to make a successful prosthesis.
Still, beyond all of the technical prowess, what stands out at the center of Hi-Tech Artificial Limbs is empathy. Jim and Shayne feel they aren’t just providing products for their patients, they’re enabling them to live their lives to the fullest. When Jim and Maurice started the business, they made a deal that they’d never turn a patient down, no matter that person’s financial situation. The process of helping people become whole again is what drives the business and the people in it. Shayne describes the experience of seeing a person walking on a new limb for the first time as being so rewarding, “You could pay me in sand and I’d be happy.”
As for the future, Jim would like to see the next generations of their families move forward with the company. He believes the passion with which everyone in the company does their jobs is what makes the business special. “We have seven to eight really great people that come in here every morning and provide quality care to patience that they truly care about,” he says.
In addition to being able to reengage with everyday activities like running and cycling, they’ve had patients go on to compete in the Paralympics, Special Olympics, and even had one patient win a gold medal as part of the Wounded Warrior softball team. Having crafted close to 4000 unique prostheses to date, the folks at Hi-Tech Artificial Limbs are excited to bring the next 4000 to those in need.