Hemp for Prosthetics
My story today is inspired by an article in The Denver Affiliate of ABC News “Sustainable Solutions: How Hemp is Being Used to Make Prosthetic Limbs”, with some additional research from about five earlier articles.
Let’s see if we can put them all together and make one good story.
Ever since one of the earliest known prostheses—a wooden big toe—was discovered on the foot of a 3,000 year old Egyptian mummy, prosthetic device technology has evolved to become more comfortable, durable, and sustainable.
This may sound like an answer in Trivial Pursuit, but it’s a far more important factoid than you might think. There are more than 2 million Americans who have lost an arm or a leg or were born without one of their limbs. Millions more have health issues, such as diabetes, that could lead to amputation in the future. And don’t forget the wounded warriors in our armed forces like Brian Mast, Jason Beck’s friend in Congress.
Here’s another: not a war hero but just an average guy: Mark Dunshee lost his lower left leg in a dirt bike accident. He’s a practical guy who was worried he might lose his health insurance, so he joined a company that made prosthetics. Where he met a guy named Kyle Trivisonno, a board-certified prosthetic technician who’s made more than 1,000 prosthetic limbs for patients.
THE DEEPER DIVE
A quick tutorial on prosthetics: They used to be made of wood, but wood would crack and break over time. Metal prosthetics are super heavy, and they don’t flex so they hurt, especially the legs. As technology improved, they were made with materials like acrylic resin, carbon fiber, thermoplastics and fiberglass.
Take carbon fiber, for example. Sounds sexy. Originated for aerospace. Trivisonno says “Everybody hates carbon fiber. You’ve got to wear a suit and full respiration and still with all that PPE on, I don’t care what ventilation you have, you’re still going to be covered in that carbon dust which is extremely dangerous to work with and really just not comfortable."
And it’s not good for users, either. For example, if the prosthetic is not finished with a rubberized material at the top, it can cause itching for the user.”
And if you took a carbon device and you dropped it on the ground, it's probably going to crack and start to delaminate,” he says. “When it delaminates, it's going to splinter, so putting it back on is not going to be an option.”
But Trivisonno is an innovator. He asked Dunshee if he’d be interested in trying a prosthetic leg made of hemp. His theory was that “Because hemp is more flexible but just as durable as carbon fiber, it can be more comfortable for amputees over time.” In fact, it’s even better than “just as durable” … “According to Trivisonno, hemp is 10 times stronger than carbon when properly laminated. It’s also far more supple and therefore resistant to cracking, and the natural fiber is lighter and less corrosive than carbon and fiberglass.”
Dunshee agreed, and his hemp leg works so well, he’s run a half-Ironman triathlon and 2 marathons with his.
Trivisonno and business partner Sam Spalitta started a company called Human Plant Solutions and recently relocated to a small town near Wichita, Kansas. The company and its products were incubated by a Koch Company grant and have been given six months’ free rent to get up and running.
THE LOOP BACK
One problem, though. Where US farmers were once required by law to grow hemp, the company now has to import the long-fiber hemp from China, while they wait for the US hemp industry to return after it was wiped off the map due to Prohibition of Marijuana - - the monster mythology used to justify the greatest incident of industrial sabotage in history.
And that’s another reason they’ve located in Kansas. It’s right in the middle of the agricultural heart of America, where hemp will someday, we hope, be grown as far as the eye can see.
Image source: https://humanplantsolutions.com