A Century of O&P: U-M Orthotics & Prosthetics Center

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By Andrea Spridgen

Prosthetic and orthotic technician Steven Cielinski works with a socket in the lamination room. Photographs courtesy of UMOPC.

From its beginnings in the old surgical building on the University of Michigan (U-M), Ann Arbor, campus, the University of Michigan Orthotics & Prosthetics Center (UMOPC) has become an integral part of the U-M Health System, according to Anita Liberman-Lampear, MA, administrative director of UMOPC. As it celebrates its 100th anniversary, it is this close relationship with other hospital departments, and the university as a whole, that Liberman-Lampear believes has made UMOPC successful.

When U-M opened its Appliance Shop in 1912, orthoses were fabricated in a separate building under the direction of the orthopedic surgery department. While these services were integrated into the hospital by the mid-1920s and the orthosis fabrication operation was moved into the lower level of University Hospital in the 1930s, orthoses remained the sole service offered by the unit until the late 1950s. In 1958, the basis for the modern UMOPC emerged when George H. Koepke, MD, asked Walter J. Stokosa, CP, to establish the prosthetics unit, and the Orthotic-Prosthetic Shops took up residence next to the Orthotics-Research section in the newly formed department of physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R). Today, UMOPC offers comprehensive orthotic, prosthetic, and pedorthic services within the U-M Health System.

UMOPC faculty and staff at the open house to celebrate the center's renovation, June 19, 2012.

The current makeup of UMOPC's patient population is driven largely by the diversity of the university's hospital system. Because the hospital houses a major trauma center, Liberman-Lampear says that UMOPC sees a large volume of trauma patients and estimates that they fit more halos and body jackets than most centers of similar size. Providing shoes and foot orthotics for patients with diabetes is also an important part of UMOPC's practice, accounting for the top one or two types of orthotics services, she estimates. Providing these products is an essential component in helping UMOPC patients to avoid amputation. Liberman-Lampear notes that there are a number of patients who have "gotten to know me over the years...[and] will stop me in the hall and say, 'See, I still have my feet.'" The center also serves a large population of patients with amputations and provides a high percentage of upper-limb prostheses compared to similar-sized practices, she says.

In addition to patient care, the research aspect of the program has played an important role in the center's history, yielding such significant developments as the rubber sleeve and the silicone gel liner by Joseph P. Giacinto, CP, and Richard McUmber, CP. Other contributions from UMOPC researchers through the years include the Michigan Molding™ Helmet, developed by Ammanath Peethambaran, MS, CO, FAAOP, and the BRAE™ brace, developed by Nicole M. Parent-Weiss, CO, OTR, FAAOP.

From left: Prosthetist Les Wontorcik and PM&R exercise physiologist Britt Michel talk during the recent open house tour.

In 1994, UMOPC established a residency program under the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE) guidelines that, according to Liberman-Lampear, is sought after due to the variety of patient care opportunities; residents are not paid as regular employees, but rather are paid a monthly stipend as students advancing their education. "We consider the residency [as] part of [a prosthetist's or orthotist's] education," she says. "You are a student and you're here to learn." Additionally, while she says that UMOPC is proud of its program, if a resident is pursuing both an orthotic and prosthetic specialty, residents are allowed to complete only one of their residencies there; he or she must complete the other residency at another facility. This is because UMOPC's philosophy is that it's valuable to learn more than one way of doing things.

Coinciding with UMOPC's 100-year anniversary, the center completed a renovation that added 9,000 square feet to the facility. Support for the renovation is just another example, says Liberman-Lampear, of how the U-M Health System and the university as a whole have embraced O&P, which is one of the smaller units. She explains that one of the biggest game changers in UMOPC's history is the relationship its staff members have formed with U-M Health Center physicians, which has helped the center to become a vital part of the institution. "As a division of PM&R, we had always had a great relationship with the physicians. However, as we progressed, we began to work even more closely with the physicians and learned to provide them and their patients services [the patients] needed to get them out of the hospital quickly...and to be not just providers of orthoses and prostheses but of good customer service. We became part of the pathway for the treatment of the patients. And it's paid off in the relationships we have throughout the university."

Editor's note: For more information about the history of UMOPC and the center, visit www.med.umich.edu/pmr/op

Andrea Spridgen can be reached at