‘Grandfather’ of OPAF Reflects on Changes in O&P Profession

O&P pioneer Don Hardin has two grandchildren.

But he is also “the grandfather” of the Orthotic and Prosthetic Activities Foundation (OPAF), according to Robin Burton, the organization’s executive director.

Twenty years ago, Hardin helped start the nationwide organization with the goal of “improving the quality of life for O&P patients through health and fitness programs, and raising public awareness of physical disability.”

At age 80 years, Hardin is still working. He heads Don Hardin and Associates, an O&P consulting firm based in Union, Ky.

Hardin has spent nearly 50 years in O&P, including 30 years working stateside for Ottobock.

Helping aspiring athletes

Hardin said the idea for OPAF was born on an airliner high over the Atlantic Ocean in 1992. He was on his way home from the Paralympic Games in Barcelona.

O&P consultant Don Hardin helped get the Orthotic & Prosthetic Activities Foundation started.
O&P consultant Don Hardin helped get the Orthotic & Prosthetic Activities Foundation started.

Image: Don Hardin and Associates.

“I was sitting with a colleague, Dave Schultz, and we were talking about the upcoming Paralympics in 1996 [in Atlanta] and the potential for problems coordinating with distributors and manufacturers because Ottobock had the exclusive right to service Paralympic devices,” Hardin told O&P News.

Hardin, who was Midwest region manager for Ottobock at the time, asked Hans Georg Näder, the company’s president and chief executive officer, if he would be willing to relinquish the exclusivity rights.

“He graciously agreed,” Hardin said.

OPAF began in 1995 as the Orthotic and Prosthetic Athletic Assistance Fund. The organization raised money for the Atlanta Paralympics.

Hardin was the chief fundraiser, according to Michael Burton, director of Sales and Business Development for O&P News.

“He was so successful in his efforts that there was a nice surplus left over after the conclusion of the games,” Michael Burton said.

Hardin helped collect $500,000, of which $45,000 remained and was handed over to OPAF. “Don remained on the board and helped determine a new direction after the Paralympics determined OPAF’s assistance was no longer needed,” Michael Burton said.

OPAF sponsors its own programs through partnerships with individuals, organizations and institutions. Those programs include the “First Clinics,” programs in which people with disabilities engage in physical activities, often for the first time. The activities vary.

“An amputee might ride a horse, scuba dive or climb a rock wall for the first time,” Hardin said. “It is amazing to watch somebody with one arm hold a tennis racket the first time and see the joy in his face.”

Hardin is a past president of OPAF and of the American Orthotics & Prosthetics Association (AOPA). He earned an AOPA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 but confessed, “I did not know what a prosthesis was before I started [working] in the industry.”

Introduction to O&P

A native of New Rochelle, N.Y., Hardin grew up in Chicago, where his parents moved when he was 5 years old. He graduated from Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., and worked as an account manager for a company that made corrugated containers before breaking into the O&P field in 1966 with Camp International. He started as a sales representative, then climbed the ladder to sales manager and vice president.

“I was living in Milwaukee at the time, and Bob Miller made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Hardin said.

After 11 years with Camp International, Hardin moved on to Southern Prosthetic Supply (SPS) in Atlanta, where he became general manager. Before he joined Ottobock in 1984, he was product manager for the Cincinnati-based Surgical Appliance Industries. From 1982 to 1994, he was president of his own company, Tribar Orthopedic, also in Cincinnati.

At Ottobock, Hardin was a manufacturers’ representative; Midwest regional manager; and director of trade, payer and government relations. He retired from the company in 2014.


Changes in the profession

Hardin said, by far, the biggest change he has seen in O&P has been in technology. “We have gone from wooden legs to microprocessor legs. Unfortunately, the biggest changes have come out of wars.

“But as it stands right now, it is so exciting to see [amputees who] do not have to worry as much about what they are doing — they can live fairly normal lives,” Hardin said.

While he is grandfather to Kip Hardin and Nancy Fletcher, he is “dad” to Michael Burton.

They met in 1984 when Hardin was a manufacturers’ representative for Ottobock, and Burton managed the SPS distribution center.

“At the time, SPS was the largest volume distributor in the world for Ottobock,” Michael Burton said. “We immediately bonded and spent time together at O&P meetings across the country.

“Don took me under his wing, and I often refer to him as ‘Dad.’ He has indeed served as a father figure, and I am honored that he would take such an interest in me.”

Michael Burton added, “Don has rotated off the OPAF board a few times, though he always seems to come back. He loves the organization and the organization loves him.”

Disclosure: Michael Burton, Robin Burton and Hardin report no relevant financial disclosures.

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