University of Minnesota Alumni Association

Alumni Stories

Doctor without Borders

Alumnus builds a career that spans global health, prosthetics, and entrepreneurship.

Photo Credit: Laylah Amatullah Barrayn

Andrew Pedtke (M.D. ’08) was 6 when his family moved to Ireland for three years. They eventually returned to Minnesota, but by then Pedtke had been bitten by the travel bug. During college, he studied in Denmark. He worked in a hospital in Tanzania, guided tours in Ecuador, and lived in Brazil. He bicycled from Belgium to Turkey and, later, from Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to Capetown in South Africa. “I’ve always found the experience of being in a different place exciting,” Pedtke, now a New York City resident, says. “We learn so much from seeing how other people live.”

Today, Pedkte is the cofounder and CEO of LIM Innovations, a prosthetics manufacturer, and the entrepreneurin-residence at the Hospital for Special Surgery’s Global Innovation Institute in New York, where he consults with physicians hoping to develop companies. “I was trained as a surgeon, but it turns out I’m more of an entrepreneur,” he says. “I have a real passion for helping other entrepreneurs grow their companies from the ground up.”

Pedtke’s interest in healthcare led him to the University of Minnesota Medical School in 2003. Five years later, Pedtke earned an M.D. and moved west to do a residency in orthopedic surgery at the University of California, San Francisco. Shortly thereafter, he took a trip that altered the trajectory of his career.

A visit to Nicaragua let him undertake an international orthopedic rotation. But one day Pedtke and his friend, Garrett Hurley, a prosthetist, also took a tour of a local factory that made prosthetics for amputees. The process seemed backward and the results less than satisfactory to Pedtke, but his friend told him that the industry operated similarly around the world—even in the United States. When Hurley sketched some designs he thought could improve the prosthetic's process and fit for the wearer, Pedtke saw an opportunity: “The space was totally in need of innovation.”

Prosthetics have changed significantly in recent decades. Amputee runners can now keep pace with the fastest sprinters on the track, thanks to new prosthetics like Cheetahs that feature blade-like ends made from carbon-fiber. In other models, microprocessors control electronic knees. But fitting the body into the socket can be complicated: Even with the best prosthetic limbs, there’s some amount of rubbing and blistering. And since each body is different, fitting an amputee with a prosthetic requires customization and expertise—which is both expensive and often hard to find in places like Nicaragua, for instance.

In 2014, Pedtke and Hurley officially launched LIM Innovations, a name that plays on the word limb. Unlike traditional prosthetics, which rely on a plaster-cast method to create a snug fit, LIM’s prosthetics use 3D scans and the fit can be adjusted by the user as needed. The new model was praised by amputees and designers alike. “The biggest compliment we get is from amputees who say, 'you make my day longer,'” Pedtke says, since users no longer have to remove the prosthetics for hours at a time because of discomfort.

LIM’s products have also drawn interest from the U.S. Department of Defense, which is interested in fitting disabled veterans with the devices, including sensors that can monitor everything from usage to heart rate to sweating. “We’re working with the DoD to capture the real-time experience of amputees,” Pedtke says. “Are they walking? How much are they walking? How does the prosthetic improve mobility, function, and performance?” Prosthetics are in some sense, he says, the “ultimate wearable tech.”

Prior to COVID-19, Pedtke and LIM were also collaborating with a nonprofit in the Democratic Republic of Congo to find ways to provide prosthetics to amputees across Africa, although that work has been temporarily halted. A few years ago, Pedtke was invited to do a presentation at Upright Africa, a nonprofit in that serves people impacted by the Rwandan genocide of 1994. John Woods, founder of Upright Africa, says he was surprised when the meeting drew nearly 100 amputees, many of them on crutches and wooden legs. LIM has since donated more than 20 sockets and several thousands of dollars to the nonprofit, and Woods and Pedtke are also exploring ways to set up a workshop in Congo.

Sourcing and manufacturing prosthetics from LIM’s designs in a local facility could significantly lower costs, making the devices more affordable in a country where most people live on roughly $1 a day. In addition to cost, Woods says, durability can also be an issue: components need to withstand dust, dirt, rocky roads, and rough conditions. “Still, in a place where most amputees are using wood pegs and old belts, the difference between what people use now and what LIM can offer is as stark as the difference between day and night.”

Joel Hoekstra is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis.

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