A prosthetist recognized locally for a device that brings new hope for leg injury patients
Story by Maria Gallegos
Published March 27, 2012
Photos by Maria Gallegos
Ryan Blanck, inventor of the Intrepid Dynamic Exoskeletal Orthosis (IDEO), completes his final stage of brace fabrication before it is tried-on by a limb salvage patient. BAMC CFI is the only facility that has fitted more than 200 wounded warriors since its inception in 2009, who are able to walk, run, and perform physical activities with little or no pain at all.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Wheeler, a U.S. Marine from Camp Pendleton runs with IDEO brace outside of Center for the Intrepid March 8. Wheeler, an EOD tech, was injured in Afghanistan June 2011 while on a dismounted patrol when he was struck by an improvised explosive device that caused injuries to his body and his right foot. After a year of pain and not able to walk without a cane, his orthopedic surgeon referred him to Ryan. After a few minutes of trying on the brace, Wheeler was able to walk and run without the cane. "With this brace, I can now actually think of other possibilities, like being a firefighter or a policeman after I get out of the military," said Wheeler. "This is amazing!"
Retired Sgt. John Rice, a U.S. Marine, tries on his new brace at the Center for the Intrepid March 8. He was injured in Afghanistan July 2008 while on a five Soldier foot patrol when another Soldier tripped a landmine that caused injuries to Rice's body and his left foot. "After three years of pain and being on heavy medications, I was ready to get my foot amputated but my nurse told me about Ryan and his brace," said Rice. "With the help of non-profit organizations and the Semper fi fund, they made it possible for me to travel here (CFI) from North Carolina- to restart my life. Now I can walk and run without pain – I'm so motivated to get back in shape and even thinking about going back to school to finish my degree to become an architect," said Rice. "I am now optimistic for the future. Thank you, Ryan."
A prosthetist at the Center for the Intrepid will receive special recognition from the San Antonio Business Journal for his innovative device that helps Wound Warriors get back on their feet, literally.
Ryan Blanck was named this year’s Health Care Innovator, a special Health Care Heroes publication that focuses on outstanding achievements of individuals and organizations in the health care field.
"A bit surprised when I heard the news. I did not realize that I had been nominated for any sort of award at all," said Blanck. "So I was taken back when I heard that I actually won an award for the work that I do each and every day."
Blanck developed and created a device called Intrepid Dynamic Exoskeletal Orthosis, also known as the IDEO, a streamlined, energy-storing brace that delivers nearly instantaneous results for patients with lower leg injuries.
"I am highlighted with this award but I am not the only one deserving of the honor. There are many others involved who have helped make the IDEO and the success of the program we have today," said Blanck.
Prior to IDEO according to Blanck, "There wasn't a go-to option," he said. "There wasn't a combination device that would allow offloading, adequate range restriction and power generation."
So he created one.
The device is a lightweight, carbon-fiber brace that can be tucked under a pant leg and into a boot or sneaker. It comprises a cuff that wraps around the leg just under the knee connected to a footplate by carbon-fiber rods.
The custom-fit brace works by offloading the limb and allowing the patient to operate the lower limb in a way that avoids pain, he explained. When a patient’s heel strikes, the device stores energy through the gait cycle, then delivers it back to propel the foot forward.
"That's the concept behind it all; energy storage and power," said Blanck.
"The way it works is very much like a runner's prosthetic," said Blanck. "As the warrior steps on it and moves forward, the energy of the foot piece is transferred to the back of the foot piece with a spring motion."
Since its inception in 2009, more than 200 wounded warriors have been fitted with the IDEO and are able to walk, run, parachute, and perform demanding physical activities required to stay active duty in the military or transition back to into civilian society.
"Without the drive and efforts of so many wounded warriors who utilize the IDEO and overcome the limitations of their injuries, there would be no reason for any acknowledgement of this program and the IDEO. They are the real heroes in all of this," said Blanck.
"Just seeing the joy in a wounded warrior's face at walking again pain-free, make every extra hour of work worthwhile," said Blanck. "I loved my job before this, but this is a whole new level."
The device was signed over to the Department of Army and is now under a provisional patent phase with an 80/20 percent agreement between the Army and Blanck.
"There is significant research related to outcomes and benefits of the IDEO and related rehabilitation. This research is key in continuing validation of what we are doing as well as future advances of this technology," said Blanck.
"I am continuing to look at ways to improve and advance this system so more patients can possibly experience increase functionality after a devastating injury," he said.
"We know that the military population has found benefits of the IDEO, so the potential to see patients outside of our facility to have them experience the same benefits of the IDEO and introduce 'Return to Run' program is maybe not all that far off in the near future," added Blanck.
A special publication featuring articles about Blanck and other winners will be available April 6 in the San Antonio Business Journal and an awards ceremony is scheduled for May 15 at the McNay Art Museum.