My First Visit to the Hanger Clinic: Casting

At the Hanger Clinic before stepping inside.

Today was my first of many appointments at the Hanger Clinic and it was pretty awesome to finally meet the team.

When I arrived, they photocopied my driver’s license and had me sign releases to use my image in photos and video. I had the option to opt out as well, but figured, “What the hell.”

As I waited, I encountered the ExoSym in action for the first time. A good-looking young man in great shape walked by and out the door with one on his right leg. I stared like a preschooler encountering an animated monkey for the first time. I was in awe. He had the slightest limp but strode with confidence. It made a small squeak noise in his shoe as he stepped and I wondered if that was my future – squeaky shoes. It didn’t matter. It looked cool. In fact, all the guys looked cool.

I snuck a peek at the guys standing around in the “gym” area sipping coffee (they have free coffee!). They each had one. They looked as normal as can be and comfortable in their skin. Yet I was entirely intimidated. I wanted to talk to these fellow ExoSym folks, but I suddenly couldn’t think of a thing to say. “Hi, I’m Jen and I’m getting a couple of those. What do you think about them?” seemed so lame. I was nervous, way out of my comfort zone (this talking about and admitting my need for these devices is still so new to me), and uncharacteristically shy.

My daughter chimed in, “Mommy, are those the things you’re getting?” Suddenly, it was very real. I looked at her and remembered all the things I’m excited I’ll be able to do with her once the foot pain is gone and I’ve built up my strength using the devices.

image2When my appointment time arrived I was taken back through the “gym,” where there were several hot, bad ass military guys chewing the fat, and into to Ryan Blanck’s office, the director of the clinic and the inventor of the ExoSym. As I sat waiting for him I was in awe with all the notes, thank you plaques and recognitions on his walls, highlighting the number of lives he’s made better with his work. I was in the company of good people.

July is crazy time at the clinic. They’d worked to get me in, but patience was needed as Ryan worked with a double amputee then a wounded ExoSym patient, both of which who’d flown in from far across the country.

When Ryan came in, he asked a few vitals – height, weight, age, etc. – then asked how I heard of the ExoSym (through my doctors at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle). He was surprised it wasn’t through the clubfoot Facebook group. He said he thought I might be one of the first clubfoot patients to come to the clinic that didn’t hear about it from the group. That says so much about my new tribe!

Typically he shares all kinds of information on the device, he said, but he quickly ascertained I’d done my homework. I did admit I was nervous and it took me two doctor and physical therapy appointments, and finally a meeting with my doctor and the physical therapist together to convince me to consider the ExoSym. He knew right away why. Pointing to his head he told me its normal to have to get past yourself. He told me the good news is these devices aren’t like other braces, and don’t look like them. They’re like an exo-skeleton. “They’re made for that guy to go back to work,” he said as he pointed to a photo of a combat soldier in full combat gear.

I smiled. “So if I imagine I’m more a Halo warrior than a Clubbie who was so bad off I needed help from a device?” He smiled, “Exactly.” I like that analogy.

He had me walk across a mat that recorded how I walked, stepped and moved. He showed me I step with my whole foot, not heal first (knew that) and that I list to the starboard. (Yup, know that too.) We talked about my limp and the mechanics of my body. He said if I was normal from the knees up he knew the devices would be great for me, but not knowing how the rest of my body will strengthen, he said we’ll take it one step at a time. The cost includes up to eight physical therapy appointments and we’ll use them all so we’re both happy with the results. “I certainly see you can benefit from them,” he smiled. “You will see improvement, I promise. All your nerves will turn to excitement when you try on the test device on Monday.” I have faith in my body. It’s assimilated so many times, it will do it again.

We then went in for casting. I put on these light stockings and he wrapped my feet in black plaster then left as it dried. He came back a few minutes later and cut the plaster off. My sensitive feet didn’t enjoy that feeling, and seeing a plaster cutter brought back some tummy clenching memories of my hospital visit filled childhood. I cowgirled up and pushed through, focusing on the fact these casts will be the mold for my new devices.


That was the end of the first appointment. Before I left, Ryan surprised me. He took out his phone and asked for my number. He put my cell into his phone then texted me. “There you go. Now you can reach me if you need to.” That really made me feel special at a time when I really needed to feel supported.

Ryan knew I was feeling nervous and out of my comfort zone. He assured me again that this was going to be great and he looked forward to seeing me experience the devices on Monday. I’m looking forward to it too.


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