Updated: Nov 16
Brent Wright is quickly becoming one of the biggest names in prosthetics because of his willingness to try new things using digital technologies. I've been the beneficiary of his work lately, and I was inspired by his innovativeness and ability to think outside of typical practices. I think what Brent is working on is the direction prosthetics is going, and people can really benefit from not only his brilliant designs, but mostly his mentality.
I sat down with Brent and asked him some questions in hopes that it would inspire others who work in the prosthetic field to seek out new options and practices. Additionally, I think it's important for patients to know what's available to them so we can push the envelope a bit more and advocate for what we need in order to get the best products. This, in turn, will give us a better quality of life. Brent hosts a podcast and is constantly sharing his work to get feedback, learn, and inspire others. His pride doesn't get in the way, which has helped him get amazing results and patient experiences. His collaborative nature has lead to outstanding discoveries and has allowed him to learn from failure. Check out what he has to say:
Q. Describe your professional background and current duties in your line of work.
A. I am the Vice President of Operations for East Point Prosthetics and Orthotics. I was employee number 3, and now we have over 40 employees. So my role has definitely changed over the years. I have gone from full-time practice to more of a managerial role, whereas I still see some patients. But my role now is to provide support to our clinicians, both in the clinical realm and with design and 3D printing.
Q. What made you start 3D Printing in the field of prosthetics?
A. I had just returned back from Guatemala doing a clinic, and we had seen almost 70 patients and had delivered that many prostheses as well, between three clinicians. It was just SO much work! And the reality is, when we looked at the impact that we were having, yes, we did change lives and such, but on the scale of who needed prostheses in Guatemala specifically, we didn't even make a dent in the actual number of patients that needed them. So that started me on a journey of figuring out how we scale and create access worldwide for prostheses, and I believe digital technologies and 3D printing will do that.
Q. Why do you feel this method is needed?
A. For instance, in Guatemala, a lot of times it's very difficult to get pieces and parts/equipment to do traditional fabrication, but to bring in raw materials and do 3D printing and such, it makes it more accessible. The other thing, for the developed world side of things, is it allows us to do things that were unattainable before. Now patients have access to some interesting ways of adjustability, targeted cushioning, variable thickness, all of which were very difficult to do with traditional fabrication, and now can be semi easily done with 3D printing. So ultimately, I believe patient outcomes can be better because of the availability of superior materials.
Q. What has been your biggest success or proudest moment in the 3D printing realm?
A. I think my biggest success is just getting started with three D printing. I used to be anti-3D printing/anti-anything digital. And to me, making that pivot was not only a significant change in my mindset, but it also showed me where my priorities lied, or, you know, “lied.” And instead of thinking my way is the best way, it actually helped me open my eyes to see that maybe there are some other ways that can help patients and get the best outcomes. And maybe I was just being stubborn. So that would be my encouragement to anybody- just get started! The other part of that question, though, is once I got started, we had a patient in Guatemala. This young lady lost her arm in a brutal machete attack when a masked man came into her house. She lost her arm and had scars all over her body. Her physical and emotional trauma led to her becoming depressed. However, when we were able to provide her with a 3D printed prosthesis for her arm, it was like a switch went on for her, and she started smiling. She started being a part of the community, encouraging others with disabilities. And now, nearly seven to eight years later, she is a part of our team. Every time we go down, she is helping people with Guatemala's equivalent of Medicaid get services they need for people that have some sort of disability. To have somebody go from having no hope to having hope, I would say that is the biggest proudest moment.
Q. What is something you hope to work on in the future? Do you have any neat ideas that haven’t yet come to fruition?
A. The body is living, breathing, moving, and ever-changing. I want to create a prosthesis that does the same thing, and I believe we're on the right track with some of the flexible materials coming down the pipe. The biggest hurdle is design. And I think we are making good end runs into design. 2024, I believe, will be a pretty amazing year.
Q. Have you found that 3D printing trumps older O&P practices? Will traditional methods become obsolete?
A. 3D printing is the way for better outcomes and absolutely trumps traditional fabrication. That's not to say traditional fabrication doesn't have its place and doesn't work, but what we try to do with 3D printing is create something that we cannot create with traditional fabrication. There is no real reason to 3D print if you can also create it in traditional fabrication. Will traditional methods always have their place? Having those skilled technicians is very, very important now more than ever to be able to take care of patients and create these devices. Whether it's 3D printing or traditional fabrication, it is important to have somebody that is great with their hands that can understand not only the anatomical reasons for doing things but also the way things go together. But we are running into a time when more and more technicians are retiring and we're not replacing them as quickly as we need to. That is definitely one thing that we have to do better in the orthotic and prosthetic field.
Q. Describe the product that you have created for me and the journey it took to fabricate it.
A. When I went to Chicago and visited David Rotter, a prosthetist who does not 3D print at all, he wanted to create a tread that was very lightweight, compliant, and specific for positioning while running because the foot didn’t come with a tread since it was meant for track running. However, he was only looking at practices and materials that not only take up a lot of time but don't look that great. So, we were able to scan your blade and create it together to make sure weight lines and thicknesses were appropriate so it would be the most useful to you. It was a little bit of a journey, not only to get the material properties close to correct, but also to make sure that it fits correctly as well. But in the end, I think we have a great foundational product.
Q. What do you hope to make for me next? Have you already used this method, and if so, in what capacity? What benefits over traditional practices have you seen it have?
A. By knowing a little bit of your history and how athletic and in tune with your body you are, I think it is important to have some sort of dynamic interface with your leg to give you some cushion so your leg doesn't have to take as much of a pounding. The other thing it does is it allows us to load areas dynamically rather than to have consistent contact over your whole leg instead of creating excessive reliefs, which then takes away from contact on your leg. So the reality is, nearly everybody can take contact; it’s just how much contact can they take? And if we can dynamically load your leg, that would be amazing! It is something that can't be done in traditional manufacturing. Most of these foams and such are single durometers. And when you start gluing foams together, you run into some areas of failure. Whereas with a flexible interface, we can actually tailor that. And the other neat thing is that we have the file, so if it doesn't work quite right or we need to load or relieve a certain area or create some different dynamics, it doesn't put you out and off your prosthesis. You can still wear your prosthesis while we're 3D printing the other new interface because we already have the overall shape of the interface of your prosthesis. We've seen it completely change lives. People that have had wounds, wounds healed. People that haven't been able to run, run far while being relatively pain-free. So I think that is what makes me excited.
Q. What are some roadblocks you have run into while trying to be innovative and incorporate new methods for O&P?
A. I think it's mostly mindset. I hope people learn from me as I was completely and totally anti digital technology. I actually didn't think you could be a good prosthetist and use digital technology. However, my mindset has changed, and I actually believe the opposite now. If you don't put digital technology into your toolbox, then you are actually robbing your patients of potential outcomes that they could otherwise not have.
Q. Why do you think you were more apt to dive into the 3D printing field when few other clinicians were attempting these feats?
A. One is I come from a very hands-on background, so I'm okay with fiddling and trying things. The other is I have a mechanical aptitude along with some design aptitude as well. The other thing is I grew up as a technician, so I know how these prostheses have been made over the years, and that helps me because I actually know how to design all the different types of prostheses and know the potential problem areas (like pressure points) and that sort of thing. Not everybody is built like me. However, there are a lot of people out there now that have very good skills. And if you are creative, you can definitely have somebody help you along the way. Even though you may not design it, that is okay.
Q. Is there anything I missed that you would like others to know?
A. My encouragement for anyone who has been considering the use of 3D printing in prosthetics is to just start. There's nothing special about me and what I do; it's just I have been okay with failures along the way. And there are going to be failures on anybody's journey, whether it's traditional or with digital technologies, but my encouragement is, with the advent of the digital technologies, is not to get left behind! Don't put your head in the sand, and don't be so stubborn that you’re not willing to learn and put this technology into your toolbox.