2ft Club produces PVC prosthetic

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Members of the Prosthetics Club show prosthetic legs at various stages of completion. (Photo by Elliott Miller)
Members of the Prosthetics Club show prosthetic legs at various stages of completion. Photo by Elliott Miller.

BYU students in the 2ft Prosthetics Club meet in a warm corner of one of the outdoor engineering labs several times a week to tinker and tweak their designs for a prosthetic leg.

The 2ft Prosthetics organization began as a club of BYU and UVU students meeting together to find a way to better the world with their technical skills. What came out of that initial club was the current organization and a cheap and easy way to allow amputees in impoverished countries to walk again.

David Williams, the club’s chairman, helped to create a prosthetic leg made almost entirely out of polyvinyl chloride, more commonly known as PVC pipe. The pipes are sawn and then molded into the desired shape using a warm oven and then bolted tightly to hold everything in place.

Once the legs are molded and bolted, the club members use a series of hydraulic pistons that simulate walking and test the durability of their design. The students measure the number of cracks and breaks then re-calibrate and start again.

Ashley Burton waits for heated PVC pipe to cool off. (Photo by Elliott Miller)
Ashley Burton waits for heated PVC pipe to cool off. Photo by Elliott Miller.

The average prosthetic leg in the United States costs between $5,000 and $50,000, with an average lifespan of five years. The PVC prosthetic leg costs roughly $20 and works for roughly one year, depending on wear and tear, according to the engineers.

Ashlie Burton, an applied physics major and 2ft Prosthetics technician, said the legs take roughly two hours to make and can be suited for most types of leg amputations. Burton explained their purpose in the lab isn’t to build legs for people, but to work on the design, so when they go to other countries they can teach them to build these legs themselves.

“We make them here to test them; when we go to other countries we teach people how to make them,” Burton said. “They have to be made very specifically to the person. The foot is pretty standard, but they still have to bend it differently for each person.”

PVC is a cheap material and was chosen because it can be found in almost any country, especially countries that simply can’t afford costly prosthetics. This also means these engineers can try many new adjustments and options without spending much money.

Adam Barlow cuts a heated PVC pipe in preparation for making a prosthetic leg. (Photo by Elliott Miller)
Adam Barlow cuts a heated PVC pipe in preparation for making a prosthetic leg. Photo by Elliott Miller.

“Our main thing is to keep the price really low. We don’t want them to have to import a lot of stuff into these other countries, so when we go to other countries our purpose is to teach them how to make these so that they can be self-sufficient,” said Ryan Jenson, an applied physics major at BYU.

The major benefit of this club is that its members are fulfilling a very real need. According to Suzie Fluckiger, public relations consultant for 2ft Prosthetics, there are one million amputees every year, and 80 percent of them live in Third World countries. Within that 80 percent, another 90 percent have little to no access to prosthetic help.
“These people are stuck with crutches, wheelchairs or just can’t get around,” Fluckiger said. “It changes their lives because once they’re able to move around again, they’re able to make money and support themselves and return to normal.”
The 2ft Prosthetics organization has visited and helped countries such as Tonga and Guatemala. This summer 2ft will be visiting Chuuk, Micronesia. Jacob Erickson, a communications specialist for 2ft, said they are trying to focus on countries that the Red Cross organization has overlooked.
“The Red Cross focuses more on the war-torn countries like Iraq,” Erickson said. “But the South Pacific has a high need as well and has been overlooked quite a bit, and there is a very real need.”
The 2ft Prosthetic organization is actively seeking donations to support its cause and help the technicians bring the gift of mobility to countries in need.
“2ft is happy with volunteer work, but what they really need is donations of money,” Fluckiger said. “Anything that they can give, I mean $25 buys a person a leg. Just $25 can help change a life and help someone walk again.”
The 2ft Prosthetics club meets Tuesdays and Thursdays in the B-38 lab behind the Clyde building, and information about its upcoming efforts can be found on the club’s website.
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