Recently I had the opportunity to visit the College Park facilities in Michigan. A Russian friend of mine is a distributor of their products and asked if I would come along as a patient model. He brought sixteen of his colleagues over from various parts of Russia to learn more about the company and products he sells to them. There was a mix of Prosthetists, Surgeons and Rehabilitation Physicisans in attendance. He also wanted to show them Osseointegration technology being used on an actual patient; which is the main reason why I was asked to be there. Prior to this opportunity, their only exposure had been to the Swedish device; of which they were not supportive of, primarily due to the use of screw fixation as a way of interfacing with the bone.
The visit to College Park was very informative. Here is a company that has been in business since 1988 and their first product was an early version of the TruStep. Since then the company has brought to market thirteen different feet and is now expanding into liners, myo- electric prosthetic arms, knees and more. College Park is lead by an enthusiastic COO by the name of Bill Carver. With the assistance of his management team; Bill has been steadily growing this company by engaging in both new ventures and through expansion. He is a visionary and is constantly looking to the future of College Park and the various employees. Recently the company expanded into a second facility, which houses their engineers and where a great deal of fabrication occurs. Their operations are quite impressive; as they could pretty much fabricate anything there. Their engineers have the ability to design a product and almost immediately fabricate it; which is helpful when one is floating around new and innovative ideas. When financially feasible, they actually fabricate the numerous components that are utilized in their products at this facility and have been steadily investing in purchasing new equipment to fabricate additional components and streamline operations.
I for one was impressed with how their management team runs the company. Compared to some of the other manufactures in the O&P field, College Park is relatively small; with just under a hundred employees. Although from the top down, everyone is treated like family and I really like that personally. Having a good product is one thing but being able to deal with a company who not only cares about their customers but who also treats their employees well, says a great deal and I have no problem standing by a company like this whether I ultimately use their products or not.
One interesting thing I learned about the company is the fact that since day one, their feet have been fabricated from a proprietary fiberglass composite blend called Intelliweave; rather than what we typically see today with the use of Carbon Fiber. They do offer two feet in the line-up (Odyssey K3 & the Horizon) that are made of Carbon but the rest are fabricated from Intelliweave material. It is interesting that we never hear how they pioneered the use of a fiberglass composite blend; yet we hear lots from others who have only recently begun using a similar material; as if it some major new breakthrough in prosthetic feet.
During my visit, I had the opportunity to try a few feet. Although a proper test takes at least two weeks and in the real world environment but it was nice to get a feel for some of their line-up. Even though I had previously worn both the Velocity and Venture; I had never trailed any of their other products. My time on both of these feet was during my pre Osseointegration days and they both worked well for what I wanted and needed during that period. A foot that would take a beating and last, as well as something that gave me the feeling of a safe solid platform to both stand and walk upon. After undergoing Osseointegration surgery my needs changed considerably, so I began looking at other products. Some of which you have seen in my previous blogs.
One of the feet I tried was the Odyssey K3. Initially it felt a bit stiff, so they swapped it out for a different category; which did soften the impact up a bit. Although with an implant, there is simply no forgiveness and coupled with the Centri Torsion adapter I sometimes use; things still felt a bit to jarring for me personally. So I put on the Odyssey K2 and even though it is a low category foot that isn’t intended for my weight or impact level; the foot actually performed nice and smooth, as it is fabricated from the Intelliweave material rather than carbon. Next up was the current version of the TruStep. This was a very interesting foot to say the least. Upon taking my first step, this foot literally launched me! I am currently a good 230 lbs and the foot had no problem lifting me once I hit about mid toe. The bumpers were swapped out for softer ones and then things really began to smooth out. I could feel a more natural movement regarding compression in the overall foot (heel to toe) while standing, rather than with other feet where all you feel is a bit of heel give. Toe rollover gave me just enough, without feeling as if I was being pushed and it gave me no feeling of a dead spot or the familiar pop when coming off the toe, as the energy of the foot is released. It was actually very comfortable to walk on once the proper setup was figured out. As this foot offers literally two hundred thousand different configurations! Ultimately I ended up taking an Odyssey K2 for a trial but I am thinking it should have been the properly configured TruStep instead. Unfortunately, when I did wear the TruStep out that evening to put it through the drunk test, my height adapter kept slipping; which made it difficult to walk and it forced me to swap it out shortly after arriving at the bar.
There is always a downside to components and with the TruStep you do have to maintenance the bumpers every so often. It’s recommended once a year but I suppose that would depend on your activity level and how often you wore the foot. Personally, I utilize several different feet depending on what I am doing. As I don’t believe in cookie cutter components and one size fits all mentality when it comes to prosthetic feet. Amputees are all different and our needs vary widely. As there are thirty year olds out there acting like their fourteen and jumping around on Skateboards; there are Mountain Bikers, Hikers or simply the walkers who are just living life. Luckily today there are a variety of products to accommodate all these activities and more.
College Park offers an impressive line-up for just about every situation and will give an amputee considering their products a generous trial period. Not one product is the right fit for every person or situation but if you are looking for a change or an addition to your current line-up; this company has a lot to offer. Most importantly, they are a family who stands by their products and one which cares about their customers well being.