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Hines VA’s prosthetic lab one of VA’s largest

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Edward Hines Jr. VA’s Prosthetic and Orthotic Lab is the first choice for many area amputee Veterans. Just ask James Ritchie, pictured above.

The 73-year-old Army Veteran is being fitted for a new robotic limb after losing the lower half of his left arm 51 years ago in an industrial accident.

Ritchie is one of many Veterans treated at the Hines lab, one of VA’s largest prosthetics services specializing in orthopedic, neurologic, vascular, geriatric, traumatic and general systemic conditions.

But the suburban Chicago medical center was not always the first choice for many Veterans. “When I first started here, roughly 50% of Veterans chose to be seen in the private sector versus at Hines,” said Erik Lindholm, advanced practitioner. “Now we have between 85% to 90% of Veterans coming to Hines for their orthotic and prosthetic needs.”

Over his seven-year tenure, Lindholm said at first no more than two upper limb fittings were occurring at the same time. Now, clinicians are currently fitting ten Veterans simultaneously for upper extremity prostheses.

Joel Heuring, prosthetics chief, credits his 12-person team’s diverse experiences and specialties for the transformation, including certified prosthetists, orthotists, a pedorthist, three residents and a health technician. “With the clinical team we have, there is not much that we cannot handle orthotically or prosthetically,” Heuring said.

“It happened so I could give others hope.”

After years of failed prosthetics in the private sector, Ritchie turned to Hines VA and certified prosthetics orthotist Lea Richer to design a prosthetic arm that could return some of the function he lost decades earlier. 

Under Richer’s guidance, Ritchie is learning to function with his new limb with up to four hours of daily training. Ritchie hopes his efforts will aid others. “I experienced depression initially. But I know it happened so I could help others and give them hope,” he said.

Ritchie does this is by feeding people experiencing homelessness in Chicago where they frequently ask him about his prosthetic arm. For him, it is a way to not only serve others and remove stigmas about artificial limbs but also share his VA experience. “It is a blessing that VA is willing to give me a helping hand,” he added.

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