KALISPELL — After being fitted for a new leg brace, Kathy Warrington was brought to tears. She was able to stand up straight for the first time in her life.
Last week, Warrington, 57, of Plains, was at Northern Care Inc. Prosthetics and Orthotics in Kalispell, trying out a new leg brace developed by Marmaduke Loke of Dynamic Bracing Solutions in California. The state-of-the-art brace is only available through a handful of clinicians across the country and that list now includes Douglas Jack at Northern Care Inc.
"It was a new experience," Warrington said. "Before then I just tripped and fell and made my way through life."
Warrington has suffered from muscular dystrophy all of her life, but was not diagnosed until she was in her 30s. The disorder meant she could not stand up straight due to weakness in her ankles and legs. For 10 years she has used ankle braces that helped her walk, barely, and even then she could not stand up without leaning against something.
Earlier this year, with everyday tasks becoming major chores, she prepared to give up and get a wheelchair.
"It was too much," she said. "It was too painful to walk and too tiring. Everything was just too much."
But before finding a wheelchair, she found information about Dynamic Bracing Solutions and its advanced braces that help stabilize the leg and ankle directly above the foot, enabling the user to walk normally. The day she called just happened to be the day Jack, her regular clinician, was in California learning about the technology from Loke.
Loke has been making prosthetic limbs and orthotic braces since the 1970s and in the 1990s he developed the new brace technology. Loke said it has been used on hundreds of patients, but has been met with some resistance within his industry because of how expensive it is. A traditional brace can cost around $500, whereas the new braces range between $5,000 and $9,000.
"The technology means nothing unless every technician out there is fitting (people) with the new braces," Loke said. "The future of bracing is right here at Northern Care."
Jack opened Northern Care in 1992 and celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier this year. During that time, Jack has outfitted hundreds of people with braces and prosthetic limbs.
Patients with everything from back and muscle problems to amputated limbs come to Jack and are fitted for a replacement prosthetic or brace. Once the doctor approves the treatment, Jack and his small team go about casting the piece to fit the user. In the case of amputees, the prosthetic limb must fit perfectly because what is left of the arm or leg is usually incredibly sensitive.
Although prosthetic technology has advanced, orthotics have not kept pace, Loke said. That is why Jack is so excited to offer the Dynamic Bracing Solutions technology.
"I lose sleep over it because I want to help people the way (Loke) is helping people," Jack said.
Beginning this year, Northern Care has been offering the new braces and Jack has met with Loke numerous times to learn more. Last week Loke was in Kalispell and was able to help with Warrington's fitting. He has taught a dozen other clinicians across the country about the technology and hopes it takes off in the future.
"The more people who find out about this technology the more they will be demanding it," Loke said.
Even if the new braces are more expensive, Jack said the design and durable material from which they are made has helped hundreds of people gain mobility. Warrington said she has already had dreams of going for a run once she is familiar with the new braces.
"When I found out about what Marmaduke Loke was doing, I realized everything we were taught in college was inadequate," Jake said. "I'm on a quest with him to change how bracing is done."