Doctor without Borders
Alumnus builds a career that spans global health, prosthetics, and entrepreneurship.
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.