Tuesday, May 08, 2007

JJC considers adding orthotics program

May 6, 2007
JOLIET -- Some students at Joliet Junior College may be getting a new way to lend a hand.

But it will be in a physical way.

Administrators have proposed that the college start an Orthotics & Prosthetics Technology Program. Workers in the Orthotics & Prosthetics field help people by designing, fabricating and custom fitting orthopedic braces and artificial limbs.

On Tuesday night, the college board will vote on a request to offer an associates degree and certificates in related programs for Orthotics & Prosthetics Technology. Administrators also propose remodeling space in the college's technical building to create labs for the program.

Nationally, only seven colleges, including Northwestern University in Evanston, offer coursework in the field, said Glen Mazur, JJC's technical department chair. JJC students will be able to transfer to Northwestern to do advanced work in the field, which combines clinical and technical skills, he said. Students who earn a college degree in Orthotics & Prosthetics had a 100 percent employment rate in 2002, according to a survey by the American Board for Certification in Orthotics and Prosthetics. A JJC brochure for the program says that graduates work in hospitals, rehab facilities, home health settings, with some specializing in pediatrics.

The percentage of Americans who need an orthopedic brace or an artificial limb is expected to grow by double digits from 2000 to 2020. Amputations in the country are expected to increase in the next decade and the need for back braces will continue as the baby boomers age into their 60s and beyond.

"There is such a need for this," Mazur said of an Orthotics & Prosthetics program.

"It is not about you needing a new leg, but you need a leg that allows you to hike and dance and have a better quality of life. They say one in four Americans are using braces or needing limbs.

"It is also an area, I have found, that everybody is interested, whether it is the Knights of Columbus or a Kiwanis Club or an individual. We're talking about things that benefit children, such as those born with a birth defect, returning vets and everyone of our grandmas and grandpas."

For the spring semester at JJC, a Northwestern professor taught an exploratory class in Orthotics & Prosthetics technology for 12 students, Mazur said. Those students, who have all landed a summer internship with a manufacturer in the Orthotics and Prosthetics field, and another 30 students are expected to be in the program in the fall, he said.

Teachers in the technical department expect that JJC will attract 100 students to its program for the fall 2008 semester, Mazur said. Plans call for adding a new staff member in the fall and a second for the spring semester, he said.

It could cost $100,000 to remodel space in the T-building in order to create a lab for Orthotics and a lab for Prosthetics, said David Agazzi, the vice president of administrative services at JJC.

Equipping the labs will cost at least $396,000 and the JJC Foundation will provide $200,000 from the recent donation of the late Vera Smith to cover equipment start-up costs for the first year, he said.

"Space is limited around here and I have two teachers who have offered to give up their lab to make room for this program," Mazur said. "I don't think you would see that at a lot of programs, but people think this is great."

The technical department plans to hold an open house about the new program on May 23. The American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists has information about careers in the field at its web site, which is www.oandp.org.

Contact reporter Ken O'Brien at (815) 729-6119 or kobrien@scn1.com

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