Thursday, February 10, 2011

I design orthopedic implants...not breast implants!

WARNING: The following post is not for the faint of hear; if you have a weak stomach, you might not want to read any further. I have included pictures from surgery in this post.

Alright folks, I want to help you dive into my world a little bit more. Today I'm going to talk about my job! Lets start here: 

That, my friends, is a picture of a real live human shoulder in the middle of a surgical procedure called "open reduction internal fixation" or ORIF. This patient broke his collarbone, and the break was bad enough to need surgery to put it all back into place (the x-ray below is also a great example of a break that will need internal fixation of some sort). That teal plate that is sitting on the bone, is what the surgeon uses to put the bone back into place and hold it there. I was involved in the design of that plate.  

I work for a company called OrthoHelix, which is based out of Medina, Ohio. I have been with this company since I graduated from  college in 2008.

On a regular basis, I get to work with surgeons to design new and innovative devices for bone fixation. I get to spend a lot of time working on 3D modeling programs to design the parts. I get to work with our manufacturers to figure out how we're going to make the parts (that's usually the tough part). I get to play around in on the machines in our prototype shop and watch my designs go from computer models to physical parts in real time.

Yup, I designed that plate too :)

I really enjoy my job, I have a wonderful boss, I can basically do something new every day, and I was lucky enough to have gotten the job offer the day I graduated. One month later, I moved to Akron and started down this bloody, cadaver-y path to designing medical devices. 

I was surprised that cadavers didn't really bother me. We actually have an ice box (which used to belong to our CFO) in the cadaver lab that we keep all the specimen in. That ice box used to sit right behind my desk, in our old office. We used to hold our cadaver labs basically ON our desks. That was when the company had about seventeen employees. Now, about 2 years later, we're upwards of fifty. 

Playing with dead bodies are a way of life in this industry. Of course, the bodies are all treated with the utmost respect! Although once upon a time, while I was working on the plates that are in the pictures above, we had a cadaver lab in  Houston and one of the surgeons on the design team sent me home with 4 human collarbones to use to make sure our new designs fit the bone correctly. Yep, they came home in our checked bags.

WHAT in the world am I supposed to do with human bones?!

Well, I need to make sure that all the "meat" is off of it, right? Otherwise how am I supposed to make sure my parts fit onto it? How do I do that? (What, you didn't know this was ALSO going to be a how-to post??)

How to clean cadaveric bone: 
  1. Buy a large pot (depending on the size of the bones in question) that you intent to toss as soon as this little science experiment is over
  2. Fill pot with water and add some bleach for good measure, since bleach kills everything
  3. Add cadaveric specimen to pot with water and bring to a boil
  4. Cook for about an hour, or until you feel like the "meat" has cooked off adequately
  5. OPEN ALL THE WINDOWS IN YOUR APARTMENT, LIGHT SOME SCENTED CANDLES AND INCENSE (can you tell this step is important?). Also try not to alarm other tenants with the cadaver-y smell
  6. When the cadavers are done cooking, let them cool and dry on a pile of paper towels that would rival the height of the Empire State Building
  7. Throw away your cooking water and the pot
  8. Make an attempt to rid your apartment of the cooked cadaver smell so you're not scarred for life with the sense-memory of your human bone stew.
Yeah, I actually did that in my apartment because there was no place to do it in my office. There have been a few other times when my colleagues have had to clean off cadaver bones the same way. I am still scarred by the smell. In fact, just the other day, a colleague of mine accidentally forgot about his cooking bones and let all of the water boil off. The smell pervaded our ENTIRE office building. Oops

It's all worth it when you finally see your work come to fruition though. The first time I watched one of my designs being implanted into a real live patient was an awesome day!

What do you do for a living? Or for fun? What is the strangest thing you've ever had to do for your job?

Peace, Love & Bagels, 

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