History of Prosthetics in the National Spotlight


as they put the history of prosthetics in the national spotlight             

St. Francis De Sales School students and Dennis Clark, CPO.

The eighth-grade team from St. Francis De Sales School in Ossian, Iowa and Dennis Clark, CPO.


 The history of prosthetics is about to take center stage, thanks to five young women from Iowa.             

One of the students portraying A.A. Marks who had the largest prosthetic company in the world at the turn of the century, A.A. Marks Company.

The five, all eighth-grade students at St. Francis De Sales School in Ossian, Iowa,  are taking their original research on the history of prosthetics  to the National History Day Contest at the University of Maryland, College Park, next month.           

“I think we are just in awe of people” who use prosthetics, said Kennidie DeVilbiss, 13.            

The girls’ original group performance, which advanced to nationals at state competition in Des Moines earlier this year, is titled “Prosthetic Limbs:  Impacting People’s Mobility.”             

The group includes DeVilbiss; Megan Hageman, 13; Megan Elsbernd, 14; Caitlin Holien, 14; and Mikayla Lien, 14.  They are all from Ossian.            

 See a video of their performance at: http://www.youtube.com/vgmopga          

I was fortunate to see their presentation during a recent visit to Ossian, and shared my experiences at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with the girls.    The girls began their research as a class assignment.  But as they invested hundreds of hours of study, reading, interviews and after-school rehearsal time, their work became much more than just another school project.   “When we started doing research, we got way excited” about the presentation, said Mikayla Lien.   The girls’ initially became interested in prosthetics through a man in their community who lost both his arms and legs due to a severe infection.  But as they began their research last December, they learned how many lives are impacted by prosthetics – and by advancements in the prosthetics field.   “I think we learned to have a lot of respect for amputees,” Lien said.                

One of the students portraying a young J.E. Hanger, civil war amputee who started Hanger Prosthetics.

The girls’ group performance focuses on a girl who starts researching prosthetics when her sister loses a leg in a car accident.  It traces the history of prosthetic devices in both the U.S. and abroad, touching on major companies and individuals who have played pivotal roles.             

“We became very grateful for having the use of arms and legs,” Elsbernd said.   The girls also took their research on the road and toured the Prosthetic Laboratories of Rochester, Minn., and met with Alvin Pike, past president of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists.   The girls will compete June 13-17 against nearly 2,5000 students from the United States, Guam, American Samoa, and overseas Department of Defense schools for scholarships and prizes. The theme for this year’s National History Day is “Innovation in History: Impact and Change. “   National History Day is an academic enrichment program that helps students learn about historical issues, ideas, people and events.   The girls, who are also working to help raise funds for their trip, all say they are now considering careers in the prosthetics field.              

The student to the left is portraying a new amputee and the student to the right is portraying a Veteran who lost a limb in Iraq.

How you can help            

Professionals in the prosthetics industry can help advance the work of the young scholars from Iowa by serving as primary sources for their research on the use of and prosthetics and advancements in the prosthetics field.  The girls are interested in collecting information from both prosthetics professionals and individuals who use prosthetic devices.  They will then be able to strengthen their research project and continue to add additional primary sources to their bibliography.    If you are interested in helping with their project, please contact Kennidie, Megan H., Megan E., Caitlin and Mikayla by clicking on ‘comments’ below and posting a reply with your name, email, and relationship to the prosthetic industry along with any helpful information you can offer them about prosthetics.             


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28 Responses to History of Prosthetics in the National Spotlight

  1. Gary DeV says:

    I have enjoyed watching this presentation develop into its current state. These girls have put in hundreds of hours of research, interviews, and visits to labs, the vast majority outside of class time, to make this presentation an National caliber event. Please show your support for such an outstanding group with your comments of encouragement, positive suggestions, and financial support where possible. GD

  2. Robin Burton says:

    Congratulations on a wonderful job! You have done such a terrific job of not only getting the history, but even the verbage of the O & P industry correct! You refer to the prosthesis, not the prosthetic, a pet peeve of mine! Thank you!
    I am the Executive Director for OPAF and The First Clinics, now located in Waterloo, IA. OPAF hosts adaptive recreational sports programs and clinics for amputees and those with physical challenges. This past weekend we hosted a McKeever’s First Ride in Waterloo for Clark & Associates. A therapeutic riding program aimed at amputees, we introduce the population, both patient and practitioner to the benefits of being with horses. We have two more First Clinics coming up in Iowa this summer, in June in Cedar Falls and in August in Iowa City. I would love to invite you to be part of the First Clinics and have a chance to introduce you to some of our clinic participants. Please visit the OPAF website at http://www.opfund.org and see a little of what we’re doing. If you’re interested, please contact me. My contact information is listed on the website.
    Enjoy DC….it’s one of my favorite cities and such an exciting place. We will anticipate good news and great tidings from your showing there!

  3. I thank you for bringing light to our wonderful profession! I would like to send you each a copy of my book that I know you all will enjoy and my way to thank you! Send me an address so I can send the books out to you.
    Kevin S Garrison

    • Patty Lien says:

      The address to send the book would be: Patty Lien
      St. Benedict School
      402 Rural Ave.
      Decorah, IA 52101

      Thanks so much!

  4. Scott Medina LCTP says:

    I have been a prosthetic technician for 10yrs now and it is amazing to see the changes the feild has gone through in such a short time, for example I was taught how wooden legs were made and todays school teach about computer programable legs. To see these girls do a history of prosthetics is amazing in itself, this kind of imformation usually doesnt reach the general public and I applaude them all! UIf there is any way I can help please feel free to contact me at Brian.Medina@va.gov. I work for the Oklahoma Veterans Administrations Hospital in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma or Call 405-456-5656 and am very familiar with the prosthesis the war vets have had to use during the past years as appossed to todays technology. Once again,, Great Job Girls!!!!!

    • Kennidee DeVilbiss says:

      Do today’s vets get different treatment or technology in their prostheses than civilian care with private insurance get?

  5. Dennis Clark says:

    Having had the chance to watch these wonderful young ladies perform this play at their school in Ossian, Iowa – I am thrilled to have them representing the prosthetic profession during the History Day Competition in Washington DC. Their depiction of the important role played by prosthetists in the lives of the patients they serve is remarkably well done.

    I’m impressed not only with each of these young ladies, but with the research they’ve done and their commitment to telling this story. Thank you to everyone who writes to them because all who respond are participating.

    Dennis Clark, CPO
    President, OPGA

  6. Lawrence Hunsicker, MD says:

    Congratulations to these girls! I am a physician from Iowa City who is also a RAK (right above knee) amputee (or as is now more “correct” to say, a right transfemoral amputee), now learning to use my first prosthesis. Unlike the ones made 150 years ago, that were made from blocks of wood, mine is made from carbon-fiber plastics and a steel pylon, and my knee is one of the new computerized jobs. I can testify personally on how much easier the new knees and socket designs have made it for me to walk correctly and be able to get around and do my job as a doctor.
    Incidentally, I was at the McCheever’s First Ride that Robin Burton refers to above, and I’ll try to be at both the June Cedar Falls and August Iowa City First Tennis Clinics this summer. It would be great if some of you could come and visit us there.
    Again, congratulations!
    Larry Hunsicker

    • Mikayla Lien says:

      Does the Medical museum in Iowa City have information on prosthetics? We were wondering if it would be beneficial for our group to come down there to see it.

  7. I watched with interest your video on the history of prostheses. A friend once said to me, “No matter where you’re going, there you are.” I might add that in order to know where you are, it helps to know where you’ve been, and your play and video does a good job of providing that perspective.

    Wayne Renardson, BK

  8. It was an excellent presentation of something that so many ignore and it can be overcome with courage and knowledge!
    I am an amputee since I was 16 and from a third world country where my first temporary prosthesis was a “peg leg” (like the pirates). But with determination, and God’s help I was able to become a prosthetist and help so many that go through that experience. Especially because today the prosthetic technology became so good that for the first time at the last Olympics the committee questioned the possibility of being overpowered by an amputee in the games!!! But the need of people who can help it great!
    Thank you again for your unique work because it will be an eye-opener for many. Feel free to contact me at ability@myexcel.com .

  9. Kevin Gilg says:

    Awesome presentation!! Very nicely done. Good luck at the National competition. I have been an amputee for over 35 years (lost my leg below the knee at age 21) and as a result studied prosthetics, became a state licensed certified prosthetist in the state of Florida. My wife and I started a prosthetic business 23 years ago. Our daily work is so rewarding, helping amputees deal with their loss and resume the activities of daily living. When we begin working with an amputee, we take the approach that we want to be their prosthetist for life and we work very, very hard to keep the amputee comfortable and enable them to be as active as possible. The biggest challenge that we face is decreasing insurance reimbursement, which is making it more and more difficult to provide the quality of care that we have come to be known for. Please visit our website at gilgprosthetics.com Please contact me, if i can provide any information that may be helpful for your presentation in June.

    • Megan Elsbernd says:

      What percentage do most insurance companies cover and how do those that can’t get coverage afford a prostheses? Is there some sort of government assistance?

  10. Marita Dorsch Carozza, CP,FAAOP says:

    Congratulations on your professional presentation and your interest and dedication to the world of prosthetics.
    Your enthusiam and research is greatly appreciated.
    My family has been in the profession since 1898, 4 generations and 7 family members.
    My mother Mary S. Dorsch, CPO was the first woman in the profession and I too am a CP. Our profession would be blessed to have some of you join us. Let me know if I can be of assistance to you , in the future,as you have been of assistance to our profession by getting our story out there . Thank You!

    • Caitlin says:

      Since you are Mary Dorsch’s daughter, you must be A.A. Marks’ granddaughter?!? I am especially interested in him because I portray him in our performance. I read your family has been in the business for over one hundred years and has made many contributions to this field. What do you feel is the most significant innovation from your family? Thank you so much for your time! I look forward to hearing from you.

  11. Congrats on your presentation! Our family has been in the prosthetic business for over 50 years here in Iowa. Your presentation shows how our profession continues to help rehab amputees to allow them to lead normal lives.
    If you need any additional info, feel free to call me

    American Prosthetics and Orthotics, Inc.

  12. What a great presentation on such a vital topic. After watching these young ladies it brings validation to what young people can do if they have passion and vigor. I have no doubt that you will compete at the highest level in your competition and show your peers what hardwork and education can bring to the table. It was my pleasure to watch you ladies and look forward to hearing how you did at nationals. Please feel free to contact me in Waterloo if you would ever like to come down and see first hand how these prosthesis are fabricated. Good Luck and God Bless!

  13. Melissa Stockwell says:

    Dennis Clark passed along the link to the play so I could take a look at it. I am amazed by the way these 5 women portrayed the history of prosthetics in a way the audience can relate and understand. As an amputee and in the field of prosthetics, I was still captivated by what these ladies had to say. Congrats on an awesome play and thanks for educating your audience on prosthetics. Good luck!

  14. Ramnath Thakur says:

    Hi Girls! I must congratulate u all for this wonderful work of highlighting prosthetic profession.Let me share that I have been working in the profession for last 19 years and feel blessed to be able to help people who lost their limb due to some reason.Currently I am the Chief Prosthetist of Kiwanis Artificial Limb & Rehabilitation Centre,New Delhi,India providing absolutely free limbs to poor people.

  15. Todd F. Anderson, CP, FAAOP says:

    Ladies, congratulations on a job well done and good luck in the competition. I have been an amputee for 29 years and a Certified Prosthetist for 25. I have seen a lot in that time as a patient, a paralympic athlete and a prosthetist witnessing prosthetic care on 6 continents. I am quite surprised by the impact your short video had on me. I am very impressed and hope your audience in D.C. is as well.

    You clearly showed that although an amputation creates many challeges, it is not the end of life and in fact often allows people to rehabilitate and become great contributors to society. And you also showed the value of advancing techinology and how it can help those with a need.

    Thank you once again and congratulations,

    Todd Anderson
    VP of Professional and Clinical Services
    Otto Bock HealthCare, USA

  16. Deenie McKeever says:

    How wonderful you are documenting and presenting this amazing and important history! Blessings to you in this endeavor!!

    My father, Dan McKeever, was a pioneer in the Orthotic and Prosthetic Industry. He took over the franchise in Atlanta when his father-in-law died. It was a second story, one room office where 2 men sat on tall stools whittling round pieces of wood that were stored in large shelves along the walls. There were no schools for learning about making prosthetics. People walked in, off the streets, to learn at work benches. He helped get O and P education into schools and; then, promoted certification classes. Just before his death in 1998, he saw his dream come true of having the first O and P Masters Program launched at his beloved alma mater, Georgia Tech. (Ga Tech now has the first PhD O and P Program) My father was a part of the history that went from those first wooden prostheses to state of the art technology using computerized parts. Beyond that, though, , he believed in folks being the best that they could be–even more than they thought possible!..and wanted to help make that happen. McKeever’s First Ride honors him and that legacy of encouragement he left to us.

    • Mikayla Lien says:

      Thanks so much for the information! We’ll do some research this direction before we leave for the contest!

  17. Michael Burton says:

    I am very impressed with the research that went into this project and how well the information was presented. This is my 31st year on the supply side of prosthetics. I had the pleasure of working with Deenie McKeever’s father Dan who was the eleventh prosthetist certified in the United States back in 1948. Prosthetics has generally been in the background of everyday life and it is very refreshing to see this subject discussed openly in an encouraging manner. This presentation will help to eliminate fears in many people faced with an amputation, along with their friends and families. I also have the pleasure of working with Dennis Clark who has also been quite impressed with and supportive of your work. I hope that each of you will continue to take on challenges that help to eliminate barriers and ease fears. You did a wonderful job with this project and I wish each of you the very best in the future. If I, or OPGA, can ever be of assistance please do not hesitate to ask.

  18. Rick Bowers says:

    This presentation was a great idea and is an excellent and entertaining way to “tell the story” of the history of prosthetic devices. Even beyond the information about prosthetic devices, I think it is a great way to show progress and how new ideas build upon the ideas of others.

    I have been an employee of the Amputee Coalition of America (www.amputee-coalition.org) for about 10 years and have seen the amazing advancements in prosthetic devices that are available today. Even though these devices still aren’t perfect, this presentation shows that they have really come a long, long way.

    This presentation could certainly inspire people to pursue prosthetics or another medical devices field as a career. It makes a person want to be a participant in changing lives through technology and innovation.

    Congratulations on a great job!

    Rick Bowers, Communications & Public Relations Manager
    Amputee Coalition of America

  19. Mikayla Lien says:


    We had a great time at the National Competition. Fortunately our performance went off without a hitch and the questions asked by the judges were easy for us. We ended up placing 6th in our room out of 11 performances. There were 7 total rooms with at least 11 group performances in each room.

    We wanted to thank all of you for posting comments for us to enhance our performance. We really appreciated all the help. We also enjoyed learning about prosthetics and meeting with prosthetists and people with amputations. A couple of us are even considering a career in the future with prosthetics.

    Thanks again!!!!

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