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Updated 3:00 PM May 2, 2005




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Spotlight: Building limbs and lives

After a boyhood bout with polio, Mark Taylor learned to make repairs to his leg braces in his family's dairy barn in Idaho.
(Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

"I'd use bits of old leather to fix parts or if a rivet broke on my braces I would find an old nail in the barn and replace it," Taylor says.

But it wasn't until the 19-year-old took a two-year mission trip to Japan that he realized what his life's work would be: "I saw many people with lower-body extremity problems and it sparked my interest in rehabilitating people."

Today, Taylor is director of clinical and technical services for U-M Hospital Orthotics and Prosthetics. He consults with polio patients around the world via the Internet, and researches the effectiveness of new knee-joint prosthetics.

Taylor helps users of orthotic and prosthetic equipment find the correct materials to fit their needs. From researching new materials to teaching residents, Taylor has found a way to apply his love of engineering and help people like those he met in Japan.

"I love using my hands to help these patients, manufacturing things, product design and engineering. The fun stuff," he says.

Taylor says that having personal exposure to orthotics through his experience with polio helps him understand his patients' needs.

"I have an edge—I've been able to sit down with patients and understand the other side of the table. It's a little bit of a head start," he says.

"I understand having others stare at you because you present something different, something out of the normal or the frustrations of not feeling secure and stable and having to keep visiting the orthotic facility often," he adds.

From start to finish, Taylor's U-M facilities can assess a patient's needs, fit them for equipment and build and repair their orthotics or prosthetics in-house. And Taylor still makes his own repairs at the Orthotics and Prosthetics Center

"It's one-stop shopping. I'm confident in our technicians," he says. "We have some of the top-notch practitioners right here under this roof. I'm proud to say that."

Though he enjoys the responsibilities that come with creating orthotics and prosthetics—engineering and testing equipment, evaluating patients, fitting pieces—he says the biggest payoff comes right before he sees his patients for the last time.

"I love creating a positive outcome that enhances the patient's quality of life," Taylor says. "The smiles, the hugs are all really great, especially the tears in the eyes of parents and the hugs from children. That's the best part."

On weekends, Taylor enjoys cruising on his Harley-Davidson.

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