MINNEAPOLIS - Injured people have something new to lean on thanks to a Minnesota inventor. Jeff Weber, a native of Fairmont, designed a new kind of crutch called Mobilegs.
Weber, a designer of office furniture, credits a bit of misfortune for his brainstorm. Seven years ago, he broke his heel, wound up on traditional crutches and was disappointed in the performance.
"I was experiencing a significant amount of irritation under my arm and hand and wrist was not all that excited to use the product," said Weber, standing Tuesday in his Minneapolis design studio. Weber explained the problems with the old crutches, which he said use technology dating back to the Civil War. "It produces a tremendous amount of pressure under the arm. Your wrist joint is actually collapsed. It also forces you to sort of splay the device outward to produce hand to hip clearance. What that does, it makes it very challenging to move through narrow spaces, for instance, on an airliner."
Weber also contended that the traditional crutches subject the user to a loss of dignity. "It is not all that aesthetically appealing. So, that is a factor, and in many cases, people tend not to want to use it because of the secondary trauma that it produces, the physical injury that it produces."
Weber argued that personal avoidance of the old crutches diminishes the recovery rate of patients. He said he wanted the new crutch to be transparent.
"Meaning that it does not encumber your movement and your ability to regain mobility after an injury or a surgery of some sort," said Weber.
Mobilegs, by comparison, have one vertical leg instead of two connected by horizontal pieces. Rather than the perpendicular hand-holds on old-style crutches, Mobilegs have hand-holds molded to fit the human hand and designed for right and left hands separately.
Most dramatic is the difference in the saddle, the point where the device fits into the armpit. Not just a rigid or foam covered bar, the Mobilegs saddle compresses and tilts as a person leans and moves.
"It manages the pressure points under the arm through what we call the membrane. The fact that it is also suspended and it articulates to actually, what it does is it alleviates the pressure under the arm," Weber said. "[The membrane] absorbs the shock that you experience as you gait, as you walk."
The rubber feet of the Mobilegs are curved on the bottom. Weber calls it a "rocking foot," designed to mimic the walking motion of feet as the device comes in contact with the ground.
John White is co-founder - with Weber - of Mobi, the maker of Mobilegs. He is now President and CEO. "We just released the product in June. So, that is our full release." White says they have a major distribution deal in place, also.
"It is on the web and then we also go through Twin Cities Orthopedic locally, and then a number of hospitals nationally that are starting to release our product both in terms of just a product release and also in terms of using it as a marketing tool to support their brand in their local markets," said White.
Weber and White admit the cost of Mobilegs is high in relation to traditional crutches. $130, retail, for Mobilegs, as opposed to about $50 for old-style crutches. Both believe the difference in design will make up for the higher cost.
"People come to our website and purchase them, but when they do it, many times, they will purchase one of the skins and do overnight shipping, making a it a pretty expensive cost, but you can tell the pain they are under if they want to pay that kind of money to get something resolved," said White.
Another bit of misfortune landed the young company a celebrity spokesperson when New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Peyton was tackled by a player on the sidelines in October and suffered a broken leg. Peyton began using the Mobilegs and was so impressed, he showed them to the Monday Night Football broadcast crew in their booth. He has since become an official spokesperson, according to White.
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