Military-funded prosthetic technologies benefit veterans, but also kids

In 1905, an Ohio farmer survived a railroad accident that cost him both of his legs. Two years later, he founded the Ohio Willow Wood company, using the namesake timber to hand-carve prosthetic limbs. The company grew, surviving the Great Depression and a fire that destroyed the plant, and still thrives today in rural Ohio. Few who work there now might remember the curious footnote in the company’s history that occurred during World War II, when the rebuilt factory was diversified to build parts for PT boats and B-17 bombers.

Today, it is ironic to consider a company that specializes in prosthetic limbs building parts for the war machine that unfortunately increases demand on companies making prosthetic limbs. Indeed, the tragedy of war has pushed prosthetics researchers to work ever harder to help service members and veterans who have lost limbs.

Not only are soldiers losing limbs from IEDs; older veterans are losing limbs from diabetes and vascular disease. Mobility is key to long-term health, and prosthetic limbs are key to mobility.

That has made the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs a key player in prosthetics development and technological innovation. But what is created for service members and veterans has benefits far beyond them, helping nearly two million Americans – civilian children, elderly people and young adults with amputations – maximize their mobility.

A key funding source

As a biomedical engineer specializing in prosthetics, I’ve reviewed grant proposals seeking funding from the VA to research prosthetic limbs for several years.