LANDSTUHL, Germany - With a workplace exhibiting characteristics more of a machine shop than a medical clinic, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s Brace Clinic combines medical know-how with mechanical aptitude, resulting in custom patient experiences.
From insoles to full-body casts, the exclusive clinic at LRMC is one of just a handful in the entire Department of Defense which provides designing, fabricating, fitting and modifying of a full range of orthopedic appliances to include treatment of preoperative and postoperative patients, sports injuries, disabilities, and chronic pain.
“We are more than just a brace shop,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Erik Hayworth, certified orthotic fitter, 86th Medical Squadron, 86th Medical Group, 86th Airlift Wing. “We work pretty much hand in hand with neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons and podiatrist to make the custom fabrication pieces.”
The Air Force’s Orthotics Program, a graduate-level program spanning seven months, helps develop active-duty orthotics technicians to work with various tools and materials such as plaster, metal, plastic and leather. According to Hayworth, the Air Force only has 12 orthotics technicians in its ranks, providing a unique service to patients by a unique group of individuals. Contributions to medicine include the well-known face masks basketball players don when recovering or protecting from facial injuries, each one custom made for the user by an orthotist.
“We do have a fabrication lab and we don't just hand out the off-the-shelf devices,” said Hayworth, a native of Pinehurst, North Carolina. “We do get a chance to actually make new devices that haven't been made before or modify something for someone.”
Not only does their service promote healing and protection against further injury, it allows Service Members to continue missions if necessary.
“We had a surgeon who broke their foot but still needed to perform procedures. There was a safety concern with the device they were wearing so we actually made a watertight surgical boot and even put a tread on the bottom,” explained Hayworth. “They continued doing surgeries without compromising patient safety or their own healing.”
Over 20 years of service in the Army and a lifetime of marching, running and sports led Sgt. Maj. Osmil Sazon to the LRMC Brace Clinic in hopes of preserving his active lifestyle after being diagnosed with plantar fasciitis.
“I did not know much (about the clinic/process) at first because I never had any foot injuries,” said Sazon, Operations, Plans and Training sergeant major at Regional Health Command Europe. “All I knew was that they produced shoe inserts.”
Following a fitting and custom orthotics insoles, Sazon says his diagnosis is now tolerable after months of physical therapy.
“The pain and inflammation of my heels and arches do not stop me from running, walking, and marching anymore,” said Sazon. “From the moment you get seen by the technician and doctor, you already feel that you are in good hands because of the quality of care provided,” said Sazon. “This clinic plays a big role on bringing Soldiers back to the fight. I am a good example of that.”
Although the clinic focuses heavily on lower extremity injuries, they also provide custom devices for other musculoskeletal injuries, the leading diagnosis for medically nondeployable Service Members.
“We mold everything by hand. If there's an emergent situation we can make (an orthotics device) right away,” said Hayworth. On occasion, these impromptu devices help stabilize patients during transatlantic flights for further care in the United States.
Additionally, devices can be manufactured to overcome disabilities through a multidisciplinary approach.