By Fred W. Baker III, American Forces Press ServiceJune 13, 2007
WASHINGTON (American Forces Press Service, June 13, 2007) - For prosthetic technician Jared Scott McClure, it's all about the "pull."
He's referring to the process in which he pulls a hot sheet of plastic over the plaster mold of an amputee's residual limb to make a test socket for the patient's prosthetic leg.
"The pull is everything," he said, admiring his latest work, a test socket for a female patient who is an amputee at the ankle.
Mr. McClure said the goal is to get the plastic consistent, but heavier in specific pressure points. How well he does his job determines the fit and function of the permanent socket and, ultimately, how well servicemembers perform with their prostheses.
This is his second attempt at this test socket. The first was not good enough, he said.
A Navy veteran, Mr. McClure said he always wanted to work in the medical field but didn't care for hospitals. "I like to get my hands dirty. I like working with hammers and tools and stuff," he said.
As a prosthetic technician, his job is part science, part art, and a lot of muscle.
Mr. McClure said he was struggling in college after leaving the Navy, and wasn't sure what he wanted to do. He learned about the school from his Veterans Affairs counselor. Mr. McClure said he was hesitant at first, but was sold after talking to the staff there.
"Within five minutes of talking to the instructor, I knew. I was like 'Wow, this is it. Where do I sign up'' And here it is, three years later, I'm in D.C. working at Walter Reed fitting legs on guys who went to war," he said.
To make a test socket, Mr. McClure suspends a sheet of hard plastic nearly a half-inch thick in a convection oven set at 370 degrees Fahrenheit. The plastic heats for about 10 minutes and begins drooping in the center. Mr. McClure takes it out of the oven when the plastic droops equal to about half of the height of the mold. With the help of another technician, Mr. McClure then drapes it over the mold, kneading the plastic as he goes to remove air from between the plastic and the plaster. When finished, he prefers to have at least one-quarter-inch thickness throughout the socket.
Once it cools and re-hardens, the test socket is trimmed using a small circular hand saw, the rough edges are ground and sanded, and it is rubbed with a chemical solution that smoothes the test socket to a glass-like finish. The whole process takes Mr. McClure about three hours. He makes about 16 test sockets a week, he said.
Mr. McClure has been a prosthetic technician for nearly a year and has worked at Walter Reed for just more than a month. He lives with his cousin in the District of Columbia. From a small town Oklahoma, Mr. McClure said he came to D.C. looking for an adventure. What he found was a job that he loves.
"It's so morally gratifying. I'm proud of it," he said. "I put 110 percent into everything I do because of who it's going on. I try to give these guys a new kind of life -- show them they are not limited by whatever appendage they may have or may not have."