Elected officials, industry professionals, faculty, alumni, and campus leaders were guided by knowledgeable California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) students as they toured the university’s new Orthotics and Prosthetics Education Center (O&P center) in Los Alamitos during a ribbon-cutting event on Jan. 14.
The event provided attendees the opportunity to see, touch and learn about current O&P applications, such as 3-D scanning, prosthetic systems, and the variety of state-of-the-art techniques and equipment available to O&P master’s students in the 12,000 square-foot center.
Among those taking the tours, and providing remarks later in the evening, were CSUDH President Willie J. Hagan; U.S. Congressman Alan Lowenthal, who represents California’s 47th district; Los Alamitos Mayor Richard Murphy; and alumnus Glenn Matsushima, founder of the Prosthetic & Orthotic Group in Signal Hill.
“We custom designed and built this center and program. It’s a fantastic facility and is the second largest of its type in a public university in the United States,” said Scott Hornbeak, director of the O&P center and program. “That’s something to be proud of because we serve thousands of patients, not only locally, but throughout the nation. We are also proud because we prepare orthotics and prosthetics professionals to go into the workforce and serve in urban, underserved, and rural communities—people from all walks of life.”
The O&P program has been housed at various locations since it was launched in 1984, including Cerritos College, UCLA, at CSUDH, Rancho Los Alamitos Hospital, and in labs at the private San Diego-area orthopedic company Össur. Prior to its current location, it had been at the VA Long Beach Healthcare System hospital since 2009.
The student-guided tours weaved through the center’s patient examination room, its gait analysis area, machine and plastics fabrication labs, its library, and its high-tech Mechatronics and CAD/CAM room. Attendees also learned about the ways in which O&P students work with the center’s patient-models.
“Our patients come from different places. We do a lot of recruiting from amputee support groups, get references from people who have friends in the area, and from practitioners in the field,” said Aileen Menkin, a second-year O&P student who served as a tour guide. “Our patient-models often view the center as a support group itself. A lot of them don’t make much money as models. It’s really more about the social aspect of it, and giving back. We really learn a lot from them.”
CSUDH offers a 22-month O&P master’s degree program that blends clinical and technical skills focused on caring for patients who have neuromuscular or musculoskeletal disorders, and/or partial or total loss of limbs. It is among one of only 12 accredited master’s degree programs in the country educating certified practitioners, and is the only one offered at a public higher education institution in California. The university graduates approximately 10 percent of the nation’s O&P professionals.
Students also receive valuable clinical experience in the O&P center, and learn to design custom artificial limbs and orthopedic braces. They create custom treatment plans, and learn the importance of the psychosocial aspect of disability, which is critical in the industry today, according to Hornbeak.
Many of those who toured the O&P center while mingling with dignitaries, students and staff were university alumni. Some have not only graduated from CSUDH’s O&P program, but have worked in the industry for many years.
“I worked in my father’s [orthotics and prosthetics] company when I was young. When I went to Cal State Dominguez Hills, I then got a real good textbook education that fit well with my hands-on experience,” said Mike Openshaw, who graduated from the university’s O&P program with his bachelor’s degree in 2000.
Mike’s brother, Robert Openshaw, also graduated from the O&P program with his B.S., but in 1990.
“This industry is becoming very technology-based, and very computer-driven,” said Robert, who started his own company in 2000 called Odyssey Prosthetics, based in San Bernardino. “I foresee a future in this industry where the technology is more mechanical and intuitive, instead of professionals using their hands to create molds, like they still do today.”
Gratitude and Stories
Several speakers shared inspirational and congratulatory remarks during the event’s main program, which concluded with the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“As president, this doesn’t just make you happy, it makes you proud because our job is, as an institution, to transform lives, and this program does just that by giving individuals the ability to live full and productive lives,” said Hagan. “This work is also real critical from a healthcare perspective because diabetes accounts for the majority of amputations in this country. …The minority community is at higher risk for diabetes—two to five times higher than the non-minority population. That’s why it’s great to have a program at such a high level of quality serving everybody, as well as those with the types of illnesses that are impacting at-risk communities.”
Congressman Lowenthal found the O&P center to be a perfect link between educational research and the community.
“It was a very enlightening and wonderful experience to go through the tour. I really learned a lot about what the center is. I also think it’s wonderful that you are here in the city of Los Alamitos. You are in the heart of the 47th Congressional District, and it’s great to see Cal State Dominguez Hills making tremendous inroads into Orange County,” said Lowenthal. “This is also the perfect location because it’s a tremendously diverse community, and is home of our Joint Forces Training Base. It’s located where the need is, where the patients are, and where it can help our veterans who have given so much to the nation.”
Three military veterans, who sustained injuries during combat, were honored during the main program. They were Harold Tor, Randell Leoncio, and Al Krueger, who provided the final remarks prior to the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Krueger, a Vietnam War veteran and O&P center prosthetics model, lost his left arm after being shot during combat.
“It’s been an honor and pleasure to work with this program, to say the least,” said Krueger, who shared some of his five decades of experiences using prosthetics. “After I was wounded–then 10 months of medical efforts–we lost the battle for my left arm. Then I learned words that to this day I can barely pronounce, and one of them was prosthetist [prosthetics developer]. I learned that a prosthetist offers something special. Most people think that they just sell devices, but they do much more. They give hope.”