I was fortunate last week to have the assignment from the Argus to write the follow up story on the winner of the 2012 Small Business of the Year, Drew Hittenberger.
Drew is an orthotist and prosthetist, which must be such an unusual profession that Spellcheck doesn’t even recognize those as legitimate words.
While orthotist and prosthetist don’t exactly roll off my tongue, I’m quite familiar with the terms because our middle daughter, Valerie who is now 19, was born without a left arm below the elbow.
She was fitted with her first prosthesis when she was six months old. It’s really quite a cute little thing. It looks like a doll’s arm hinged to a plastic cuff that slipped over her upper arm. It had a figure eight-type strap that looped over her other shoulder so it would stay on. She still has the arm; it’s packed away with her favorite stuffed animal, yearbooks and other mementos of her childhood.
I had never met Drew before last week because Valerie got all her prostheses from Shriner’s Hospital for Children. I can’t really remember how we originally got connected with Shriner’s; the best I can recall, it was suggested to us that they had a lot of experience working with children. We just got started with them early on and for the most part, Valerie received excellent care from them.
In my interview with Drew, one point that he emphasized was how he listens to his patients. He wants to understand at the deepest level what their heart’s desire is, what about their disability frustrates them, and how he can provide the tool that will help them achieve their vision of themselves.
It made me think back to a couple of our experiences working with prosthetists at Shriners. There was one time we had made an appointment because Valerie’s prosthesis was causing her a lot of pain in her elbow, so much so that she couldn’t wear it. However, she had a rhythmic gymnastics meet coming up the next weekend for which she needed to be able to wear her arm. I remember the white examining room feeling like it was closing in on us as Valerie, me, and the prosthetist sat in silence. He seemed unwilling to offer up any kind of solution to the situation. Eventually he sighed and said he could try one other thing as a last resort. Fortunately, it worked to relieve the pressure and she was able to wear her arm and compete.
The reason I tell this story is because after talking with Drew, I was reminded of the contrast when we worked with a different prosthetist who was much more like Drew in his approach. Instead of making Valerie feel like her discomfort was her fault, his attitude was one of “I know there is a way we can fix this. It may take some experimentation but we’ll get there. If you want to be able to do (fill in the blank), I’ll do everything I can to help you achieve your goal.”
I would consider Drew extreme – and I mean that as the highest compliment – in his “can do” approach. He is committed to helping his patients reach their goals but as he put it, “wrapped in reality.” After all, we’re not talking about creating the Bionic Man or woman here. But patients who work with him are very blessed because when you work with someone like him, the world expands with possibilities instead of shrinking with limitations.