“I came here to Elko in 1996 because there is nobody else doing this work and providing the prosthetics that so many people need,” said David Blackman, owner Ortho Pro in Elko and Reno. Prosthetist David Blackman set up an easy-to-access clinic on Court Street to build and maintain prosthetics and corrective orthotics. “I wanted to empower everyone’s potential with our excellent products and services.”
Blackman studied Business at University of California, Riverside. Inspired by his father, an orthopedic surgeon, Blackman went on to study orthotics and prosthetics at Northwestern University, and is now certified with the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics, Inc. (ABC).
About 1.6 million Americans use a prosthesis according to the Amputee Coalition, a non-profit to help those who have lost limbs. They expect amputations to double by 2050 because of the rise of diabetes, which often reduces blood flow to extremities over time.
“It does my heart good to help a veteran stand proud again,” said Blackman. “Or to see a child with a birth defect be able to run and play for the first time. That makes this all worth it.”
Losing a limb affects the function, and has an outsized impact on their body image. “People who have been suffering and feeling like they weren’t a whole person are so appreciative to get a prosthetic. I’m motivated to help and I can do that by using my skill to build custom prosthetics and orthotics. It’s great to give them back access to their lives.”
Some prosthetics are mechanical: fixed or limited motion structures allowing people some mobility such as a walking foot or a “blade” like Oscar Pistorius the sprinter wore in the 2012 Olympics.
But the idea of a ‘placeholder’ limb is evolving toward robotic technology which can connect nerves to muscle groups and vastly increase function.
A prosthetist like Blackman might build a band around the upper arm that responds to muscle movements which in turn activates mechanisms in the lower arm prosthesis allowing the patient to grip or move fingers. It has to be carefully customized because everyone has a different shape or different remaining functions. Young people need to be refitted as they grow and improve their skills with their prosthetic.
“The most sophisticated tech in the world can’t help someone if it is so uncomfortable they choose to not wear it,” Blackman said. “So I guarantee a custom fit and proper function. We always do a 30-day follow-up to adjust. Every client can come back for their lifetime for a refit. I am really proud of that service because they get to have full use of their limbs and live their full lives.”
The first step is getting a prescription from a doctor. The doctor, patient, a physical therapist, and Blackman create a treatment plan and determine the function needed in a new device. After a fitting, OrthoPro produces a custom arm or leg within 3 days. Blackman said he is expanding his equipment and plans to reduce turnaround time to 24 hours.
These devices are considered durable medical equipment, and OrthPro takes most insurance because the most complex prosthetics can range up to $40,000. A list of insurances accepted is on their website. “We guarantee everything we do for fit and function. If you aren’t happy or we can’t adjust, we will do it again.”
Prosthetics aren’t just for replacing arms and legs. Women who have had breast cancer and surgery changed the shape of one or both breasts may consider a breast prosthesis.
Jeanette Blackman, David’s wife, and OrthoPro partner, is a registered mastectomy fitter. Many women choose to wear a prosthetic to feel symmetrical after a mastectomy. In fact, women with a single mastectomy can start to experience significant back and neck issues when they are out of balance post-surgery. A properly weighted breast prosthesis can help avoid shoulder slump, allow for better posture, and protect sensitive skin and scars.
“Buying a breast prosthesis is obviously not like shopping for other items,” Jeanette said. “The knowledge of the person helping you can make a big difference in how you feel both physically and emotionally.”
OrthoPro makes custom braces for knees, shoulder, and elbows, or full back braces to support weakness or deformities in the spine. Blackman said “temporary braces to help recovery from knee and shoulder surgeries are big part of helping people get back to work quickly after an injury.”
OrthoPro operates primarily in Elko, but also has a mobile practice covering the entire state, and another facility in Reno.