Teen’s Invention to Help Amputees in Ghana

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By Miki Fairley

Amputees in Ghana, Africa-and perhaps in other developing countries-will benefit from the creativity and compassion of a teenage inventor.

Jim McElhiney, CPO, provided Grayson with expert guidance so that Grayson's idea could become a reality.
Jim McElhiney, CPO, provided Grayson with expert guidance so that Grayson's idea could become a reality.

Grayson Rosenberger, 15, won the grand prize and a $10,000 savings bond in the first-ever Bubble Wrap® Competition for Young Inventors for his cosmetic prosthetic cover made with the cushioning material. He edged out nine other semifinalists to advance as one of three finalists, and was named grand prize winner at a Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day gala dinner at New York City's Rainbow Room January 29. Nearly 800 young inventors from fifth through eighth grades nationwide entered the competition.

Judges "were captivated by his project and 'the thought that you can take Bubble Wrap and change the lives of someone on the other side of the world,'" Rohn Shellenberger, manager of air cellular products at Sealed Air, Elmwood Park, New Jersey, which produces Bubble Wrap, was quoted as saying in The Tennessean , Nashville, Tennessee.

Grayson, who was 14 at the time he entered the contest, has been the center of a media blizzard of TV and newspaper coverage. The Today Show even came to Grayson's hometown of Nashville to tape a segment about him and his invention.

Inspiring Parents

Grayson was inspired by his parents, Gracie and Peter Rosenberger, who provide prosthetic care to amputees in Ghana through their ministry, Standing With Hope. Gracie, a noted singer, is a bilateral transtibial amputee following a long series of surgeries to try to save her legs after an automobile accident.

Jim McElhiney, CPO, of Nashville Orthotics & Prosthetic Services (owned by Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics), made Gracie's first prosthesis before she lost her second leg and before Grayson was born. He has been her prosthetist ever since.

Grayson shows off his invention at Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day.
Grayson shows off his invention at Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day.

McElhiney, himself an amputee, has accompanied Peter and Gracie to Ghana, where he has not only made and fitted limbs for amputees, but also has trained Ghanaian technicians. He notes with appreciation the O&P manufacturers and other organizations, including the Fillauer Companies, Knit-Rite, Hanger Orthopedic Group, Alps South, Limbs for Life, Ossur, and the Barr Foundation, which have donated componentry, supplies, and other resources to aid Ghanaian amputees.

Bubble Wrap Tech Put to Work

Adding to Standing With Hope's resources is Grayson's invention, which the mission plans to use in Ghana. Prosthetic cosmesis is especially important to amputees in developing countries, since the robotic look of an uncovered limb is "freakish" to people in these countries, although often in the United States it's considered cool, Grayson explains. Being considered inferior due to disability often strikes both an external and internal blow to amputees in Ghana and elsewhere. Not only does being an amputee frequently hinder job opportunities and social acceptance, it also often lowers amputees' own self-esteem and confidence.

Thus, the benefits of a cosmetic covering to help amputees better blend into the world around them are huge. However, the cost can be upward of $1,000 or more--far out of reach of the average Ghanaian, who earns about $1.50 a day.

This is where Grayson's invention comes in. It costs only about $4 to make, and it provides a realistic look of muscle definition. It also is relatively durable. When Grayson heard about the Bubble Wrap contest from a science teacher, he wanted to enter, and he came up with an idea. He discussed his idea for a prosthetic skin covering with McElhiney, who was enthusiastic about it and helped Grayson learn how to shape the Bubble Wrap covering by using a heat gun.

How It's Done

To make the covering, Grayson uses two layers of Bubble Wrap. He uses packing tape to attach the first layer to the aluminum pylon, and then wraps it around the pylon. "The reason I use packing tape is because I use a heat gun, and the plastic wouldn't stick to the pylon," he explains. "Plus, packing tape is easy to take off if you have to replace it." The Bubble Wrap is molded into the foot to look realistic. If any bubbles protrude too much, Grayson simply pops them.

"You then do about the same thing with the outside layer," he continues. "This layer, which is attached to the first layer with packing tape, goes all the way up to the socket, and you wrap it around the socket so that you now have a big, thick cylinder. And this is where the heat gun comes in handy, as you shape the leg." More layers can be used, if needed, he adds. After the leg is finished, it can be covered with prosthetic hose, panty hose, or something similar. "We use prosthetic hose," says Grayson. "You pull it up very tight. If something sticks out, you just use the heat gun."

Users can be very active with the leg, Grayson says. "If the leg is damaged, it's better for it to be the Bubble Wrap than the pylon. When it's the Bubble Wrap, you can make a new prosthetic covering in about five minutes."

Grayson is looking forward to going with his parents and older brother Parker to Ghana and other parts of West Africa this summer. He especially wants to meet Daniel, a boy who broke his leg playing soccer and underwent an amputation. Although Standing With Hope provided Daniel with a prosthesis that enables him to enjoy sports, he often is laughed at because of his prosthesis. "He's been an inspiration to me," says Grayson. "I want to make a cosmetic covering for his leg, so he can look more natural to everyone."

Miki Fairley is a contributing editor for  The O&P EDGE and a freelance writer based in southwest Colorado. She can be contacted via e-mail at  miki@opedge.com