The Cornell Brothers

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By PEL Supply Co.

A funny thing happened to Keith and Ken Cornell on their way to dental school. Ken was in the placement office of Saint Anselm College, a small Catholic college in Manchester, New Hampshire, waiting to talk to an adviser when he began leafing through some occupational briefs. The entry on orthotics and prosthetics grabbed his attention, he remembers. "There were stories and pictures of people being x-rayed and fitted with prostheses," he says. "And the more I read, the more fascinated I became."

Ken couldn't shake the intrigue. He shared his findings with his brother and before he knew it, Keith too was gung-ho. The world of O&P had beckoned the Cornell twins; dentistry was a thing of the past.

Keith D. Cornell CP, BOCO, FAAOP--who is the 2004 president of the American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association (AOPA)--went on to take short-term courses at Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, and New York University in Manhattan before being certified in prosthetics in 1980 by the American Board for Certification in Orthotics & Prosthetics (ABC). Kenneth D. Cornell, CO, FAAOP, worked at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, for a year before doing a long-term post-graduate study at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA). He then interned for a year at Massachusetts General before becoming ABC-certified in orthotics in 1981.

By 1985, the brothers decided to start their own practice and founded Cornell Orthotics & Prosthetics Inc. in Salem, Massachusetts, where Keith serves as president and Ken, vice president. "It's been very satisfying watching the company thrive and grow to about 20 employees strong," Keith says. "Besides having many satisfied patients, it's very meaningful to me to look out and see all our employees at our annual holiday party with their spouses and family. What started out as just my brother and me is now a room full of people."

Keith, who prides himself on being well-rounded, treats amputees of all ages and handles everything from evaluation to follow-up. "I don't concentrate on one particular area," he says. "I think of myself as a community prosthetist."

And whereas Ken says he also sees a broad mix of patients in need of orthotic services, his one area of special interest involves Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease, a hereditary progressive nerve disorder that is fairly common in the New England area. CMT causes patients to slowly lose normal use of their feet and legs and hands and arms as nerves to the extremities degenerate.

Together, the Cornell twins--who profess that the O&P world is all about people helping people--say they feel revered and humbled all at the same time while they go about their business. "I feel honored when everyone from the family and patient to the doctors and other specialists all turn to us to come up with a solution to the problem, when they all want to hear our opinion," Ken says. And then there's the humility: "When we're working with all those doctors and dealing with family members that look to us for the answers, we feel humbled. We know the outcome ultimately hinges on our opinions and our abilities."

Working with Distributors

The Cornell brothers concede that when they started, they never would have gotten their fledgling business off the ground without the help and support of one distributor in particular, PEL Supply Company of Cleveland, Ohio.

"My previous employer had always used PEL," Keith recalls, "so I knew they were a good company. Still, I was very anxious when I first called them and spoke to Al Gullifer as I had no previous credit history with any other O&P supplier. I said, Hi, Al; it's Keith. I'm calling from my own place now.' Al said, Really? That's fantastic; I'm really happy for you. Whatever you need, we'll get it to you. Many times our smallest customers become our best customers.' He took a tremendous weight off my shoulders. And you know what? His good wishes came true: PEL is largely responsible for us doing as well as we do."

Ken wholeheartedly agrees. "We owe our loyalty to them," he adds. "PEL gave us carte blanche as to what we needed and told us we're here to help the little guy get going.' Every time Al would call, he'd ask to speak to the big guns of the East.' Here it was, just the two of us, and he'd ask for the big guns of the East.' It was fun," he recalls with a laugh.

Keith interjects. "A lot of what we do is personal in this business," he says, and relationships--such as the one they share with their favorite distributor--are a key to success. "PEL is also very capable at what they do; they always do what they say they're going to do. If they can't get you exactly what you ordered, they'll come up with an alternative that will work. Because, just like us, they know the business." And that business is people helping people to get the job done right.