One of the things Randy Lord, of Danforth, Maine, missed the most after losing his foot in an accident was the freedom of swimming. An injury on a yacht in 1985 led to a transtibial amputation that severely curtailed his enjoyment of outdoor activities.
“Growing up on Mt. Desert Island [in Maine], we had a lot of great lakes and ponds to swim in. I am an avid outdoors person and always have been since a very early age,” Lord told O&P Business News. “After they took the leg off, it was pretty much the end of it. Swimming was pretty much off the table.”
Early attempts to swim
Lord, who had at one time been a certified diver, tried swimming with one leg and was frustrated with the way his abilities were limited.
“My wife loves the beach and swimming,” he said, adding that the couple took their daughter swimming when she was young but he could not play with her in the water.
“You still cannot really stand. You bob, because you do not have two points of contact [with the ocean floor],” he said. “You cannot really swim because you have nothing opposing the other leg when you kick off. It is an awkward motion.”
Lord said this is the reason no one ever sees an amputee at the beach.
“Nothing was pleasurable about the water at that point. It was a big barrier,” he said.
Image: Lord R.
While amputees can try straps or swimming legs, he said these are difficult for swimmers to use for recreation because they can cause leverage and chafing issues.
“After you use them you are sore and then you have to go put your prosthetic leg back on.”
Additionally, these devices can be expensive.
But Lord was not ready to give up and neither was his wife. The two of them began experimenting with fins.
“It was just myself and my wife, Lori. We bounced everything off each other and we have destroyed dozens and dozens and dozens of fins. Ultimately we started pouring our own rubber molds. We kept upgrading what we had. We did it all ourselves,” he said. “We worked on it for years.”
Different swimming experience
Finally Randy and Lori Lord created their ideal swimming solution – the Amp Fin, which has a patent pending. One of the most unique aspects of the Amp Fin is its ability to “stick” to the amputee so he or she does not have to worry about it coming off in the water. Amputees are first fitted for a KEASY Cone thermoformable socket liner which is glued into the fin and covered with a neoprene sleeve.
“The issue with most people … was to what configuration [the fins] needed to be and how to keep them on. With the neoprene sleeve or the wetsuit helping to secure these, [the fins cannot be pulled off],” Lord explained. “We wanted people to get into the water and experience freedom, total freedom.”
In Lord’s time wearing the Amp Fin, he has enjoyed just that.
“You forget [the fin] is even there,” he said. In fact, a fin allows a swimmer a significant advantage over a leg because there is no ankle to slow the kick down.
“We have surpassed what people would have on their normal foot with what we have done,” he said, adding that someone who has not undergone an amputation will lose 80% of power from a kick due to the “weak point” of the ankle. “The performance you get is a 100% power stroke in both directions. Basically, we have turned people into seals. They are able to move [better] in both directions in the water than a person with both legs, they move quicker, they can change directions quicker … It is changing the whole way people swim.”
Lord said Amp Fins can be used to substitute one or both legs.
“As long as you have an 8-inch to 10-inch appendage left on one leg, one fin is all that is required and you can swim. Because you have a power stroke in both directions, unlike with a normal fin,” he said. “You are basically a fish. You only need one fin to make it work. But the more fins you have, the faster you are going to go.”
Getting out in the water
The Lords have been testing out the Amp Fin on people with a variety of types of amputation, with help from Corey LaPlante, CP, owner of Northern Prosthetics & Orthotics. LaPlante is a transfemoral amputee and was one of the first people to try the Amp Fin.
“He was actually on his way to Florida when he tried [the Amp Fin] in the pool,” Lord said. “When he went to Florida with it he said people would just congregate around him wherever he went. He even went in wave pools with it and said it worked fantastically … When he came back, he took his fin that I made him to his office and set it on the counter. Everybody wanted one.”
The Amp Fins were recently given a public trial run at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. LaPlante recruited patients to be fitted for, and try out, the fins. After swimming in the pool, amputees provided Lord with feedback on the design and fit.
“The only thing they said that we would have to change would be the neoprene sleeves. Most all of them have the knee bend built right in. We need to have some different reinforcement but have them a little bit straighter, so we can expel any air that we might have trapped [in the bend],” Lord said. “Other than that, they were wondering more about what colors [the fin] would come in and [said] they would definitely be in the pool.”
Shooting for spring
The Lords still have some work to do before they can begin selling Amp Fins. Their company, Amp Fins LLC, has partnered with G+G Products LLC of Kennebunk, Maine to create the prototype molds.
“We are in the process of having the rest of the molds made because of all the different sizes that we need to have. We are doing them from kids’ [sizes] straight up through [adult sizes],” Lord said. “We are hoping to have them ready by the end of April for sale. From there, we are going to be sending out instructions to a lot of [O&P practitioners] throughout the country.”
After a prosthetist sends a cast for a patient, Lord will have a Amp Fin mold manufactured and then send it back to the prosthetist for a fitting.
He also is working to make sure patients are prepared for the consequences of using a limb after a long period of inactivity.
“We have to try to work in how we can get a physical therapist into the mix because these people are going to be using muscles that they have not used for a long time. We do not want people to be planning on going on a big swimming trip and then getting cramps,” he said, adding that it was difficult to take his time when he started using an Amp Fin. “You have to go in increments though because you are really working muscles that are totally atrophied after 20-25 years [post-amputation]. It takes a while.”
The goal is for the Amp Fins to cost in the range of $500 to $600 each, and “I think we are going to achieve that,” Lord said, adding that the cost will include the fittings with the prosthetist. Custom fitting is essential for Lord, who said it ensures the fin will not cause chafing.
Lord has been overwhelmed and excited by the positive feedback he is receiving from fellow amputees.
“We have a lot more hurdles [to commercial sale] but we are hoping to be ready by spring,” he said. “People have actually contacted us – prosthetists as well as individuals wanting to know when and where and how [they can purchase an Amp Fin].”
Lord said the best thing about the Amp Fin is forgetting that it is there at all.
“If you were an amputee, what would you give to feel like you were not an amputee? When you wear a prosthetic leg, it is there every second of the day that you are wearing it. With these fins, you can actually forget [that you are wearing them].”
He added, “We are hoping that this is going to tear down that barrier so that now amputees will want to go to the beach. So far, everybody who has tried them has said that you cannot get them out of the water now … We just wanted to put a lot of smiles on people’s faces [and show them] that there is a lot more out there that they can do.” – by Amanda Alexander
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Disclosure: Lord has no relevant financial disclosures.