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Michael Morley (BME ’08) observes Helcias Rubio using the prosthetic tool Morley designed to help the carpenter return to work after severing his fingers in an accident.
Photo: Michael Morley
“To say that he’s passionate about his prosthetics projects is a real understatement; I just stand back and try to get out of the way,” says Kevin Meade (MAE ’74, M.S. AMAT ’78), professor of mechanical engineering at IIT Armour College of Engineering, about former student Michael Morley (BME ’08). “It’s been a learning experience for me.”
That’s no small statement coming from the faculty member who was at the forefront of orthotics and prosthetics education in Colombia. Meade also taught the Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) Program course—Orthotics and Prosthetics Education for Latin America and the United States—that fueled Morley’s desire to design affordable and simple but well-engineered prosthetics. Morley’s experiences in Colombia provided focus for his career shift from medicine to biomedical engineering.
“I became really excited about the future of medicine—the different technologies coming out for stem cell engineering, biomechanics, robotics, prosthetics, and microchip diagnostics,” says the high-energy Morley, a senior engineer with EPIR Technologies, Inc., over lunch at a Bolingbrook, Ill., restaurant. He recalls his “aha! moment,” which occurred while working at a prosthetics clinic in Bogotá as an international Whitaker Fellow. “I didn’t want to be someone implementing the latest technologies; I wanted to be someone who was developing them,” he explains.
Born into a British family largely employed in construction management, Morley had observed various types of occupational injuries during his childhood. So, in 2009, when he met carpenter Helcias Rubio in Colombia who had severed all four fingers of his right hand with a band saw and had been on welfare for more than two years, Morley felt as though he were standing on familiar ground.
“The insight Michael had was to make a prosthetic tool that is adapted in such a way that makes it easier for the patient to use carpenter’s tools; it’s not a tool to attach to the end of a prosthetic limb,” explains Meade about the non-jointed, simple device, which was featured in the March 2013 issue of Popular Mechanics. “The bottom line is that the patient was able to return to work as a carpenter—quite a significant accomplishment.”
Besides providing Morley with great personal satisfaction, his successful and low-cost design earned him a perfect score on his master’s thesis at Colombia’s Universidad de los Andes. It also sparked a subsequent project: the creation of IPRO 350—ProSolutions: Prosthetic Solutions for the Working World, which he and Meade co-taught.
After developing the design for the hand tool, Morley wanted to see what vision his students had for further developing his concept of affordable, uncomplicated, back-to-work prosthetics.
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