PERSONAL PROFILE SERIES: BOB RADOCY, Therapeutic Recreational Systems, Inc. (TRS)
Thumbing through the TRS catalog, one can't help but notice the diversity of products that causes wonder about the 'think tank' behind the innovation. Terminal devices to impact function and prosthetic components to enhance control are featured on every page. In addition to offering opportunities to field test and/or trial the products available through TRS, Bob Radocy also extends his expertise as a consultant and resource.
As a clinician, I am often in position of working with children who use a body-powered prosthesis, helping them to learn or refine use of their prosthesis to complete activities of daily living or to participate on more equal footing in recreational activities that might include sports and music. I have often experienced "the other side": the puffing of parental pride and the look of triumph on a child with a limb deficiency and as he or she maintains grasp on the handlebar of a bike using the Criterium Bicycle Handlebar Adapter, completes handstands using Shroom Tumbler, scores a shot playing basketball using Free-Flex, Super Sports, or even Mill's Rebound Pro Basketball hand; or plays a violin, guitar or horn using an activity-specific product or adaptively with a Lite-Touch Biomechanical Hand. I have observed the hope of parents as their baby uses an Alpha Infant Hand and have witnessed the first glimpse of empowerment in a young child using the L'Il E-Z Infant hand with moveable thumb. And I have listened as young adults share exhilarated stories and video-clips of their athletic prowess while engaging in a plethora of activities such as weight lifting and rock climbing, using a Grip Prehensor or other device.
This article, however, is not about the company or its products: it's about the man behind it all. We know that Bob Radocy is a man with an acquired limb deficiency; having freely talked about the loss of his left hand in 1971 at the age of 22 years due to an automobile accident. We know that his own dissatisfaction with available prosthetic technology at the time led him to develop tools and components based on his personal needs and preferences. As an occupational therapist and a fellow consumer/user of a body-powered prosthesis, I wondered about the impact this event had on Bob's life, the rehabilitation process he experienced and his mission and the 'vision' behind it. Recently Bob invited me to participate in a workshop with him at the Annual Meeting of AAOP's New Jersey chapter in Atlantic City. There I had the opportunity and privilege of working with him, and better understanding these very issues.
Bob speaks very candidly about his experiences. Growing up mostly in southern Connecticut (and briefly in eastern Massachusetts), he entered college at Stevens Institute of Technology, planning to become an engineer. The coursework was intensive, focusing on math, physics and chemistry. After two years he transferred to a program elsewhere, majoring in Biology. He obtained hands-on experience as a designer/artist working summers with a structural draftsman, doing mechanical engineering drawing and machine design. As much as he participated in many sports and athletic activities, he always appreciated creativity and artistic expression and enjoyed sketching, illustrating and drawing. It is this unique mix of personal history that Bob credits as his "rehab experience". He never had any traditional OT, or PT during his hospitalization after the accident. In fact, he began sketching designs of prostheses while in the hospital. His doctor asked him about the drawings and when Bob told him that he was sketching designs of a prosthesis, his physician proceeded to inform him that numerous designs of prosthetic technology already existed. Bob put away his designs thinking that the experts already had the answers and that was available would meet his needs. It would be about five years before he would return to this task.
While waiting for his first prosthesis, Bob busied himself with his own mix of activities to create a "rehab process." These activities included strapping weights onto his residual forearm to build muscle and strength. He fashioned a rudimentary forearm by carving balsa wood with a rounded end, putting a smiley face on it. Bob also fabricated a second terminal device, also from balsa wood, for grasping the handlebar of a bike. This was important for him because since he had smashed his car in the accident, he did not have a vehicle. A friend had purchased a bike for him and he was using that as his primary mode of transportation while finishing school.
Bob's first prosthetic system included two terminal devices-a cosmetic hand and a voluntary opening split hook. He always wore the prosthesis, except at the beach. Eventually he abandoned the voluntary opening terminal device for a voluntary closing prehensor because he liked the gripping factor. It was during his graduate school experience, studying Therapeutic Recreation, that he continued his investigation of prosthetic systems, researching every patent claim to find better designs. He cites the work of Klopsteg and Wilson (1954) as being instrumental in his work. This evidence suggests that the voluntary closing designs, rather than voluntary opening designs offer a potentially better technological solution for those with a hand absence. Bob's passion for creativity, unique mix of education and work experience in drafting, machine design and air pollution control appears to have given him an edge in producing components that are functional and appealing to many consumers of prosthetic technology. He began TRS with a friend in 1979, machining a patent-pending voluntary closing prehensive hand. He also received much encouragement after presenting this idea at an AOPA conference in California.
TRS would endure difficult times for several years. Bob and his partner persevered, believing so strongly in the mission and purpose of their company and its products, that at one point they both became unpaid employees of TRS in order to keep it going. It was in 1983, that several occupational therapists, among them Louise White at CSU, approached Bob regarding pediatric products. Bob set to work creating the Adept and Lite-Touch hands. He credits these products for turning the company around. He also created a coloring book to help children understand use of the prosthesis and realize the many activities in which they could participate and enjoy success.
These designs have led to more energy storing, "activity-specific" technology, allowing consumers to experience more diverse activities. Bob believes that these devices fabricated with polymer elastomer modules help others the most because of the ability to capture and store energy. When asked about what he believes to be his greatest contribution, he cites the re-introduction of voluntary-closing products with technology that is useable, the introduction of polyurethane in prosthetics to duplicate joint range of motion and the transfer of kinetic energy as a viable technique. He is happy to be a resource and a role model for the past 30 years.
Bob is passionate about sports activities and the ability to use prosthetics in competition without 'penalty'. Many athletes who use a prosthesis are not allowed to compete in sports activities with their technology as it is perceived as giving an unfair edge. Bob is a strong advocate for athletes using prosthesis, and is working with the National Ski Olympics on this behalf. Bob appears as successful in his personal life as his professional life. He is an accomplished sportsman and speaks proudly of the endeavors and support of his wife and his daughter.
So what are the lasting impressions for us of Bob Radocy? My immediate thought is "Renaissance man" with "impact". This is defined as a "person who has wide interests and is expert in several areas" (Merriam-Webster). Encyclopedia Brittanica refers to the gifted men of the Renaissance who sought to develop skills in all areas of knowledge including physical development, social areas and in the arts and cites several examples of those accomplishing the arts, sciences, music, invention and writing. I asked Bob what he would like people to know about him. He was quick to respond by stating,
"My availability as a resource;
"I'm most interested in a person's success".
I must confess that Bob provoked my thoughts. I have worn a body-powered prosthesis with a voluntary opening split hook for over 50 years. Although I have found ways to do everything I've wanted and needed to do, I'd be less than honest to suggest that it hasn't been without the element of frustration! –and I confess that I myself have used the Hustler T.D. when shooting pool and the Black Iron Master and Trainer when working out. But while traveling the 5 hours back to Massachusetts, I realized that never in my 50+ year experience as a consumer of prosthetics have I tried using a voluntary closing terminal device. So why now ? Well, why not ?! I only wish that I had borrowed the Amp-U-Pod device so that I could have taken a few photographs during the interview!