By Elaine Sanchez, Brooke Army Medical Center Public AffairsMay 30, 2013
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, May 29, 2013 -- A Brooke Army Medical Center employee received a top Army honor last week for his innovation and dedication to caring for wounded service members.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno presented Ryan Blanck, a prosthetist at the Center for the Intrepid, with the Meritorious Civilian Service Award during a special "twilight tattoo" at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., on May 22, 2013. The award is the second highest honor granted by the Army to civilian employees.
The experience, which included placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, is hard to put into words, Blanck said. "I was completely humbled," he said. "When I think about our road over the past few years and what has led to this … it's very moving."
The Seattle native has been building upper and lower prostheses for wounded service members at the Center for the Intrepid, BAMC's rehabilitation center, for about five years. But it's his innovative work aiding patients with lower leg injuries that's garnered him a national spotlight, and this most recent honor.
Several years ago, a wounded Soldier who was struggling with his rehabilitation as a limb salvage case came to Blanck for help. He had been working with his physical therapist to achieve as much as possible under the circumstances he was in, but wanted to have greater function and, most of all, the chance to run again.
At that time, there wasn't a go-to option for lower leg injuries. But rather than turn the Soldier away, Blanck designed one -- the Intrepid Dynamic Exoskeletal Orthosis, or IDEO. This energy-storing device works by offloading the limb and allowing the patient to operate the lower limb in a way that avoids pain. Prior to the IDEO, there wasn't a combination device that would allow offloading, adequate range restriction and then power generation, he explained.
Once strapped on, the results are nearly instantaneous, Blanck said. Now, patients who arrive at his office, limping and in pain, walk out a short time later, virtually pain and limp free. For some, he said, it's the first time they've walked without pain in years.
Many go on to achieve their ultimate goal -- to run again. "This isn't a return to walk program, it's a return to run," he said. "I've never met one patient that said, 'All I really want to do is walk.' They all want to run. "
The device is attributed with singlehandedly helping to turn the tide on a trend of wounded service members opting for delayed amputations, which are amputations several months after injury. Limb-salvage patients are often faced with years' long recoveries, while their amputee battle buddies tend to regain significant functions about six months after amputation, Blanck explained. This quicker recovery is tempting to someone in pain and facing a lengthy rehabilitation.
But with the IDEO, these service members now have a go-to option that enables them to not only fully walk in a short time, but run, jump and sprint.
Since that first Soldier, Blanck has fitted nearly 430 troops with IDEOs, and more than 70 have redeployed. He recalls one Soldier who was readying himself for bilateral amputations. Instead, he was given bilateral IDEOs and today is not only back serving as a Chinook helicopter pilot, but also has become an avid climber who ascended Mount Rainier.
Blanck said he hears of his former patients' successes weekly, from astounding times in half and full marathons to top spots garnered on the Paralympic snowboarding and other teams.
While his patients have showered him with gratitude, Blanck shies away from the spotlight, preferring instead to shine the light on his CFI team and on his warrior patients.
"If not for them, the IDEO wouldn't have been developed," he said. "They paid a price that's hard to imagine. It's because of them, because of the impact I'm able to have in this job, that gets me up early in the morning and keeps me here late at night."
Blanck was among five civilians honored by the Army chief of staff at the event. The other honorees, who received the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Award Medal, included musician and film director Gary Sinise, businesswoman and real estate producer Kathleen Gagg, Fisher House Foundation Chairman Ken Fisher, and Deborah Tymon, senior vice president of marketing for the New York Yankees.