What are you wearing on your legs?
What are you wearing on your legs?
What are you wearing on your legs? Below are answers to your questions. These are my thoughts and no one else contributed to what you will read. I won’t bullshit you. I know what it’s like to lose my mobility, to deal with bad doctors, botched treatments, a Certified Prosthetist and Orthotist (CPO) that lacks needed skills, and to scramble to find funds to pay for devices. I get it.
Also, you can view me in action using the Exosym on my social media accounts by clicking the logos here:
Disclaimer: this text is not for you if...you approach offloading devices with confirmation bias, meaning the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one's prior beliefs or values.
For example, a small group of individuals continually send me the same exact questions regarding the Exosym. They never listen to what I say, especially if they have some sort of professional background in healthcare. They have fear of missing out (FOMO) regarding the Exosym and they would rather hear the Exosym sucks or some other device is equal or better because they're not willing to pull the trigger on an Exosym. For each answer I provide regarding my experience in Exosym, they respond with attempts to disqualify my experience. They hope the Exosym is a failure. If you come from this bias then we are wasting our time discussing offloading devices.
What are you wearing on your legs?
I am wearing the Exosym, a hybrid prosthetic/orthotic invented by CPO Ryan Blanck. The exact words Ryan Blanck uses to describe the Exosym are the following, “The ExoSym™ is a hybrid prosthetic-orthotic device that is custom-made to your individual needs and goals with optimal alignment, positioning, off‐loading, and control. It was developed as a way to help active-duty and retired service members avoid amputation. Now available to civilians, the ExoSym helps restore mobility to people across the world with limb salvage injuries as well as ankle fusions, partial-foot amputations, fractures, tarsal coalitions, and other lower extremity dysfunctions.”
What is your history with hybrid prosthetic/orthotics and dynamic AFOs?
My history with dynamic AFOs is extensive and includes,
1. Worn four other offloading devices prior to the Exosym.
2. Met with leading minds in the research and development side of prosthetics and orthotics to discuss current devices and where the field is going.
3. Met in person with CPOs, prosthetic/orthotic techs, and management from the leading companies providing mobility solutions.
4. Reviewed research proposals focused on dynamic AFOs to help decide if funding moves forward for these proposals.
5. Several of my close friends are CPOs and we talk shop all day. One CPO in particular made it very clear that Exosym is the best device for me.
6. Talked to many of the CPOs in the United States that are currently practicing and have garnered a reputation building dynamic AFOs. Similarly, I’ve spoken to doctors and therapists and others that worked around dynamic AFOs.
7. I am the only one on earth (at least that I know of) that ran for an extended period of time with an Exosym on one leg and the nearest competitor a Fabtech PDE built by the recommended Fabtech clinic on the other leg.
What’s wrong with you?
Severe bilateral clubfoot, PMR surgery on both feet, bilateral patella alta, no real muscle tissue below knees, no real ROM in ankles/feet, lots of scar tissue, deformed, etc. For reference, today, I am 6 foot 3 inches and 177 lbs.
How did the Exosym compare to the Competition?
I believe I understand the mechanics and components of the Exosym and similar devices, but I am not a CPO, thus I will only explain what felt different. Please note, I really do have a lot of love for everyone I’ve worked with thus far. This isn’t an attack on anyone or any company. I just want to help others struggling with mobility.
Why the Exosym is superior,
1. Stability: My foot feels more stable due to a well-positioned footplate, with struts/wings on the sides to stabilize my lower limb, a built in orthotic that snugs to my foot and helps offload specific zones of my foot. My entire lower limb feels stable due to a cuff that is built exactly for me and retains my leg in proper position, and a strut system that controls rotational forces. I never felt the same stability in other devices.
2. Offloading: When I first wore my new Exosym(s) I was frustrated. I couldn’t move well and I missed the ease of my previous devices.
I needed time to understand the feeling I was experiencing was the first time I encountered true offloading. Offloading meant that the joints in my foot were no longer experiencing significant impact. I can’t express the relief felt when one learns to appropriately move in a good offloading device. Plus, for the first time in my adult life my feet didn't display swelling after running.
This is important for you to understand - When a device truly offloads then you are required to learn a new way to stand, walk, and run. This takes time and work. My previous devices didn’t appropriately offload so my old approaches to standing, walking, and running never needed to change. Now the work began to develop new muscles and become a machine. The offloading power of the Exosym is beyond anything I’ve felt and this is due to the design and the experience of the CPO. I flew up to Ryan's clinic and yet I didn’t totally trust him due to my past experiences with other CPOs. I am sure many other patients arrive on Ryan's doorstep with similar anxieties. Unfortunately for Ryan, this means he also takes on the role of therapist as he builds our devices.
Don’t make my mistake of thinking Ryan is more of the same. You need to trust the process and move forward. I was so on guard that I missed out on enjoying much of the process.
3. Impact: The strut on the Exosym not only offloads better, provides superior rotational control, but it also provides a softer landing. I noticed less impact when running for distance wearing the Exosym. I’ve tried a competitor’s various strut powers from their second lowest power to the highest power in stock, and nothing felt close to the comfort the Exosym provides. Also, the Exosym footplate rocker approach is superior to all other footplates I've tried because the Exosym offloads at the optimal time during movement. For fun, I recently tried running with my old device on my right side and my Exosym on the left. I've done this many times before but it's been 8 months. The results were my old device felt like I was smacking concrete each step and I felt like the cuff destroyed my shin, whereas my Exosym softly navigated the concrete and I didn't feel the cuff impacting my shin.
Note: I know mitigating impact is more than just the strut, it’s also footplate positioning, cuff approach, and most of all the skill of the CPO to sprinkle some of that magic into your device.
4. Longevity: I am talking about how long I can wear my device each day. I wear my Exosym all day. In other devices I couldn't wait to sit down and remove due to discomfort, whereas with my Exosym I can wear this device all day without issues. Examples regarding why I felt discomfort in other devices include, the BOA closure cuff style on my old devices are terrible for endurance sports and have even rubbed my skin off, the BOA shifts in movement even when I tightened the cuff enough to cut off circulation, and the footplate positioning on my old devices always felt unnatural.
Why other devices are superior to Exosym,
1. Cost: This is the only superior aspect of other devices is that they cost less. I never felt optimally healthy using other devices. I will be real, money is a factor for why most don't try to get an Exosym. For me, every device I tried felt like a glorified off-the-shelf AFO, the Exosym is a true hybrid prosthetic/orthotic. There is nothing like this device on earth.
What are the lessons you learned when first wearing Exosyms?
1. Trust the process. Ryan Blanck has treated thousands of cases. Your case won’t surprise him. For each complaint, he has some sort of solution. I went to Ryan completely broken. Aren’t we all damaged goods by the time we get to the Exosym? I didn’t fully trust him or anyone else. I left my family (three really active kids), took some funds and went with a bit of hope. At the time, I just returned from a lengthy trip for new dynamic AFOs and it was a massive failure. I was really down. If I could go back I would tell myself to trust Ryan and the Exosym, it’s gonna be great.
So, let my experience serve as a lesson to you. Enjoy yourself and trust the process.
2. Become a new you. I train every day. No days off. I focus on movements that help me become the best Exosym user possible. This includes incorporating a holistic approach focused on optimizing diet, weight, supporting muscles, not scheduling days off because life will provide those for you, and training like an animal. This device is a new beginning. Check your excuses at the door and look for ways to adapt and thrive.
3. Find Mentors - Only take directions from those that have gone where you’re going. If someone is wearing a non-Exosym device then I don’t discuss methods etc. We are not wearing the same device. I also don’t take advice from CPOs building non-Exosym devices. I listen to Ryan because his track record speaks volumes. Why waste time and energy hashing out your goals with others that have no idea how to get where you’re going?
4. Be grateful - I knew of the IDEO, the first version of the Exosym since 2012ish. I wasn’t sure I would receive the chance to wear the Exosym. I am really grateful to wear the Exosym. Be grateful to be born in a time when we have access to these devices.
Also, my perspective is different because many of my friends face physical disabilities far more intense than what many of us are encountering. Thus, I am grateful for what I got and I try to maximize what I have not focus on what I don't...
5. No limitations - If you think you can’t or you can, you are right. Set the bar high. Place an unreasonable physical goal in front of your face and chase this goal.
What have you done in your Exosyms?
I will list what I've done in the past six months (today is 1/4/23).
1. Ran on an all adaptive relay team from Mt. Hood to the Pacific Ocean in under 35 hours. The team covered 200 miles and each team member ran three legs. My legs covered 18 miles of hard terrain. I nearly died on the third leg but that’s another story. Read the story of our team here https://www.outsideonline.com/health/running/culture-running/people/adaptive-athletes-hood-to-coast-relay/
2. Competed in runs like 5ks and 10ks.
3. I run distances as high as 9 miles without walking. Each week I am adding distance as I focus on a half marathon in the near future. Please send positive energy my way.
Key statement, I run without walking these distances, meaning no run/walk protocol just straight running and only stopping to refuel or a 10 seconds reset. I am not sure there are any bilateral Exosym or dynamic AFO users running distances like me.
4. Training to compete in the 2023 para Spartan Championships. This is a race in the Netherlands and not high on my list of priorities, because my oldest child is going to college soon and I want to spend time with her.
5. I run about 15-25 miles per week while training. This doesn’t include hiking, walking, and other sports. As a kid I was really fast even though I have severe bilateral clubfoot. As an adult I couldn’t run two days in a row and I certainly couldn’t run for distance. Now I can train every day and some days when I am running a very difficult distance I sometimes cry. I can't believe I received the opportunity to chase endurance sports.
BUT, balancing between going for it and hurting myself is needed, and I am not good with balance.
6. I am training for an ultra marathon - 50k distance. I don’t know if my body will hold up, but I am going for it in late 23 or early 24.
Can I get an Exosym at any Clinic?
You wish dude. No. You gotta break some eggs to make an omelet. The only place to get an Exosym is at the Hanger Clinic in Gig Harbor, Washington. The Exosym is made by the inventor Ryan Blanck. Ryan is the only person on earth building the Exosym. One day we will clone Ryan. Read about cloning HERE (kidding).
Click HERE to contact info for the Exosym team. Please let Ryan and his team know that I helped you learn more about the Exosym. I want the Exosym team to know that his device means a lot to me and that I made the best of what I received.
CLICK HERE for my writing on minimalism and adapting.
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