AFO designed for wounded soldiers now helping civilians regain mobility

A device developed to help U.S. soldiers with lower limb injuries regain their mobility is now helping civilians too — albeit with a hefty price tag.

Jennie Jackson suffers from club feet and was facing amputation when she underwent revolutionary treatment, getting an off-loading device which slips into a regular shoe. Chris Skeleton, Fairfax NZ

CTV News Staff June 16, 2018

Called the ExoSym, the patented device is essentially a custom-made carbon fibre brace that is designed to redirect weight and energy so people with lower limb conditions or injuries, such as partial foot amputations, can walk and run again with little or no pain.

“So it’s kind of in a sense like… a hybrid prosthesis. There’s not a missing limb per se, but there’s missing function and we’re replacing that function,” Ryan Blanck, the device’s designer, told CTV News.

Blanck first designed the device for the US military in 2009 and now serves as the ExoSym program director at the Hanger Clinic in Gig Harbor, Washington.

“People go back to hiking mountains,” he said. “It opens up a lot of opportunities for them when you take away pain and instability and give them an artificial power that they’ve lost.”

Getting fit for the ExoSym at the private American orthotic and prosthetic clinic, however, costs roughly US$9,000 per device.

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One of Blanck’s recent patients and customers is Barbara Haines of Fredericton NB, For years, Haines has been living with a foot deformity that has only been worsening over time.

“Being on my feet for even two minutes at a time, I’m in excruciating pain,” Haines told CTV News before receiving the device in May. “I want to be able to stand without being in agony all the time. I want to be able to go out walking this summer.”

While searching online for solutions, Haines discovered the ExoSym. Since the device is only available in the US, Haines travelled south of the border to get fit for a set.

“As soon as I put that on… I knew right then that that device was going to be a life changer for me,” she said. “Now it’s like I can hardly wait to put them on in the morning.”

The price for the pair, however, was nearly $24,000 — and that figure does not even include necessary travel costs.

Dr. Amanda Mayo, a physiatrist who sub-specializes in amputee rehabilitation at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, says it is frustrating that travel requirements and the ExoSym’s price tag puts the device out of reach for many Canadians with lower limb injuries.

“This is a car on your leg, but it might allow you to run and do other activities that you did before, so it’s probably a worthwhile investment, but for a lot of patients it’s just not possible,” she said. “I know my patients know about it and I know they want it and I don’t have anything to offer them here.”

Most provinces, she explained, only cover basic prostheses.

“I think it would be nice to have something like this in Canada, or at least more access to Canadians,” she said. “I think it’s a needed device in our country.”

If the company behind the ExoSym doesn’t bring down its prices, Mayo hopes Canadian companies will come up with a similarly-designed product.

“It’s probably something that we could work on more here in Canada, just improving our prosthetic and orthotic manufacturing techniques… to see if we can make a more affordable and accessible option in Canada,” she said.

Now able to walk and stand with significantly less pain, Haines says her quality of life has improved drastically since she received the ExoSym.

“I have been on the go ever since,” she said. “I actually have my life back.”

And despite the financial hardship, she says the staggering cost was worth it.

“I can’t put a price tag on my mobility,” she said. “I started a GoFundMe page, which I still have active. I went into my RRSPs and I used my credit card… If I have to spend an extra couple of years working to compensate for my RRSPs we had to utilize, then that’s fine with me.”

With files from CTV medical affairs specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip.

Source CTV News


Hanger Clinic – ExoSym™ Kinetic Orthosis Overview. The ExoSym™ Kinetic Orthosis, available exclusively at Hanger Clinic in Gig Harbor, WA, is a medical device that restores function and independence for people with lower limb injuries. Learn more at
Hanger Clinic is the leading provider of orthotic and prosthetic products and services. Our parent company, Hanger, Inc. was founded in 1861 by the first amputee of the Civil War. Our team includes 1,300+ certified clinicians who deliver clinical expertise, innovative technologies, and outstanding customer service each year across 750 patient care clinics nationwide. Hanger Clinic. Youtube Jun 3, 2016

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