April 10th, 2019 | Published in Amputee Stories
Muilenburg Prosthetics, Inc. slogan, “Partners for Life,” is especially true when it comes to Rick Melcher. An MPI patient since 1973, Rick, who went by the nickname Ricky back then, became an amputee as the result of an accident that sent 26,000 volts of electricity through his body. It happened the day before his high school graduation. After a long recovery, he donned his first pair of bilateral, below-knee prostheses in 1974 as a patient of MPI founder Al Muilenburg, CPO.
Rick recalls how he came to work with MPI. “I wasn’t expected to survive the accident,” he said. “When I woke up, I was sent to TIRR for rehabilitation and everyone I met there recommended Mr. Muilenburg. I still remember meeting him and waiting for my turn to be cast for the first time.” Family members of Rick had also been MPI patients in the past.
It wasn’t long before a young and motivated Rick was back on his feet and studying at Texas A&M University. Over the years, he has worked as a professional photographer and for nearly 15 years has been working in public relations and as the PR manager for a water and wastewater utility near Port Lavaca.
Rick’s first prostheses were exoskeletal with cuff suspension straps and SACH feet. After almost 40 years wearing prostheses, he has observed a lot of changes and is amazed and grateful for how prosthetic components have advanced. “The changes I’ve seen over time are tremendous,” he said. “Today’s legs allow me so much more mobility and the ability to stay on my feet all day long! That’s a big improvement.”
Rick is also impressed with the improved technology in the feet he wears. “The SACH foot was ‘mushy,’” Rick said. “When I put on the Flex-Foot® Feet it was like going from a pirate’s peg leg to a bionic foot.”
Another advancement is the development of gel roll-on cushion liners, which act as the main interface between the wearer’s residual limb and prosthesis. Today’s liners are made of materials that improve fit and cushion the limb, provide for easy donning and doffing, and help maintain skin health. Liners also provide protection against friction between the residual limb and the prosthesis, distributing pressure to maintain adequate fit and comfort.
Because of the nature of his injury, Rick’s residual limbs were left badly scarred and highly sensitive. His first prosthesis fit with only wool socks, which were extremely uncomfortable and caused a lot of discomfort and skin breakdown. They later made me custom silicone socket inserts that improved the fit a lot but they could not be replaced when worn out without compromising the fit. “The cushion liners I wear now are so much more forgiving on the skin,” he commented. “They allow me to stay active throughout the day.”
For Rick, staying active means spending time on the ocean, exploring and fishing. Rick fishes the waters of Madagora Bay frequently. His favorite place to fish is off the coast of Belize in Central America. “I love the blue-green water there,” he said. “It’s my favorite place!” He also enjoys spending time with his 25-year-old daughter, Jaydee.
Rick has been working with Ted Muilenburg, CP, FAAOP, since 1987 and was recently fit for new prostheses, which feature custom sockets and Modular III Flex-FootÒ Feet. He still uses the simple and durable cuff suspension straps. According to Ted, Rick’s legs are made in two sections, an especially challenging design. The top half of each is completely finished with hard durable custom laminates. The shape of each had to match each other yet blend anatomically into the lower, foam covered, endoskeletal section that could not be added until later. This interface allows Rick’s Flex-Foot Feet to move and provide energy storing capabilities.
“The trick was to end up with well-shaped left and right prosthesis that matched each other — blue with stars on the top, laminated sections and white on the lower soft ankle sections,” Ted said. “They turned out great, finished with Rick’s legs signature American Stars and Stripes design.”
MPI created the stars motif; Rick will paint the stripes on the lower white soft sections himself. He has been wearing his prostheses this way since 1975!
Rick has another plan for spending his free time later in 2011. Inspired by young servicemen and women who are returning from overseas tours after experiencing limb loss, this summer he plans to start visiting with these vets to show them how they can get out and be active. He hopes to get them on the water fishing.
His high-energy approach to life makes him an inspiration to others as well. “Rick has never let his amputations bring him down. He is energetic, cheerful, and creative in everything he does – his hobbies, his sports and his work,” Ted said. “And he always brings us great fishing tips and photos of his catch!”
Rick is grateful for his long relationship with the MPI team. “My experience has always been tremendous,” he said. “It’s great to see Ted follow in his father’s business, expanding it, and keeping it going strong.”