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Human Body Shop

Fairfax prosthetics center is the subject of a Discovery Health Channel show.

It was a small shop in Fairfax that got Joan Maguire and Harry Freedman running again.

Both Maguire, who lost her leg over a decade ago after a battle with bacterial meningitis, and Freedman, who lost his in a work accident, were referred to Elliot Weintrob at The Orthotic Prosthetic Center.

There, not only did they receive new limbs, but their stories were also told on a Discovery Health Channel show, "Rebuilt: The Human Body Shop."

Weintrob’s mother Joan, a former physical therapist, started the Orthotic Prosthetic Center in 1980. When father Harry and Elliot began working there as well as finance manager and prosthetics director respectively, the center became a family business. Each of the Discovery Health show’s eight episodes chronicles day-to-day life at the center as well as the story of two or three people, mostly patients of Weintrob’s, who overcame a physical difficulty with the help of a prosthetic, or artificial, limb.

"It was a concern of mine at first: are people going to be willing to do [the show]?" he said. "But many of them love the opportunity to be a spokesperson. We know that people lose limbs and that they get prosthetics, but no one understands how it works."

In Maguire’s case, the Discovery Health show story centers around a soccer game. Just after her first semester of freshman year at East Carolina University in North Carolina, Maguire contracted bacterial meningitis, a deadly disease that attacks the central nervous system. She lost several of her fingers and part of her leg below the knee. However, she said, given the odds on bacterial meningitis, she is lucky to be alive.

"At first, it was hard to adjust," said Maguire, a Springfield resident who works with Fairfax County. "People would come to visit me in the hospital but they could go back to their normal lives, and I still sat there and couldn’t do that." But the support of family and friends, and their refusal to treat her like an invalid, got her through the hard times, she said.

"They were not feeling sorry for me, which really helped, but I knew that things would be different and harder for me to live a normal life," said Maguire. "I always had in the back of my head that I know I can get a prosthesis and it would help me get back on my feet."

Maguire did get back on her feet, but finding a comfortable and well-fitting prosthetic limb was far more difficult than it should have been, she said. Many of the doctors she came in contact with treated prosthetic limb fitting as a routine, one-size-fits-all procedure. In the years since Maguire lost her leg, she went through a number of poorly-fitted prosthetic limbs that were often hard to use and sometimes even painful to wear. One prosthesis was an inch too short, she said, but the doctor insisted it was fine.

Weintrob was different, said Maguire. "He would listen to what I wanted and actually did it," she said. When she began seeing Weintrob three years ago, Maguire said, he approached her limb-fitting personally as he does with all his patients, hand-making individualized prosthetics to custom-fit each one. The Orthotic Prosthetic Center is part doctor’s office and part craft shop, with plaster molds of a patient’s limb made and re-made so that the prosthetic fits seamlessly. A typical leg prosthesis, including appointments, costs anywhere from $8,000 to $50,000 depending on whether it is below the knee or above the knee, said Weintrob.

"Every little bump [in a prosthesis mold] is in there for a reason," said Benjamin Koch, who makes many of the prosthetics and is training with Weintrob to be a prosthetics doctor. It is important for the prosthesis to follow the shape of a person's leg exactly, he said.

"Therein lies the nature of the business," said Weintrob. "It is a challenge, because every single individual is different." At the center, however, the approach extends beyond the limb itself. A skilled whitewater kayaker who went to Barcelona in 1992 as part of the U.S. Olympic team, Weintrob puts a great deal of stock into physical fitness. After a patient loses a limb, he said, they sometimes are apprehensive about doing the physical things they used to do, like sports or dance.

Maguire said that long before the taping of the show, she wanted to play soccer again.

"One thing I had asked Elliot a while back was that I kind of wanted to start playing again," she said. She had not played since high school, and watching her brother and sister play in a co-ed league together gave her a renewed desire to get back into soccer. She kept putting it off, she said, until Weintrob began working with her and encouraging her to play. She finally played a soccer game as part of the taping of the show.

"It was exciting," said Maguire. "Actually, playing, I realized I might need to take more breaks, but I can contribute and it’s definitely something I want to pursue in the future."

ATHLETIC ACCOMPLISHMENT also features prominently in Freedman’s story. According to wife Renie, Herndon resident Harry Freedman had always loved sports, but in June 2004, he was accidentally run over by a front-end loader at work. Doctors spent several weeks trying to save his leg, said Harry Freedman, but it came to the point where amputation was the only realistic option.

"When he was in the hospital, that was the worst of the worst of the worst," said Renie Freedman. Her husband left the hospital a few days after the amputation and spent time at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C. to recover. When it came time to think about prosthetic limbs, said Harry Freedman, the family began looking around for a prosthetist with an athletic background and found Weintrob. According to Freedman, Weintrob’s attitude toward having a prosthetic limb was positive and encouraging.

"He had the sort of personality that [said], ‘Hey, you can do it. I can supply your prosthetics and you can do what you want to do,’" he said.

The most rewarding part of the job, for Weintrob, is working with people like Freedman and Maguire. "The patient is what makes work interesting on a daily basis," he said. "Their ability to overcome adversity is amazing." Support from family and friends are crucial, he said. Every year, Freedman’s family organize a "Super-H" run in his honor, with proceeds going to BlazeSports, an athletic rehabilitation program for patients from the Children’s National Medical Center and the National Rehabilitation Hospital.

According to trainer Don Brazelton, who worked with Freedman at the Sport & Health Clubs in McLean before and after the accident, the key to overcoming a physical challenge is a determined attitude. Freedman participated in the Challenged Athlete’s Foundation Triathlon in La Jolla, Calif. in October, where athletes with physical challenges compete in a race, on teams with family and friends. Freedman completed a 1.2-mile swim, with Weintrob and daughter Erin completing the 56-mile bike ride and 13-mile run. He takes regular fitness classes at the Sport & Health Club, said Brazelton, high-impact body-sculpting classes designed for serious athletes.

"People are talking about how it’s so early, complaining they’re tired, and I look over and I see this guy. He’s just lost his leg and he’s fighting," said Brazelton. Freedman’s progress is nothing short of remarkable, he said.

"What you find, especially when someone goes through an accident like this, is that it’s less about physical ability than it is about mental ability," said Weintrob.