It’s not often that you come across a successful engineer at the cutting edge of product development in prosthetics who‘s also a war veteran, a double amputee and an experienced sky diver – I think we can safely conclude that Jay Humphries truly is one of a kind; and an extraordinary kind at that.
This article is the first in an occasional series, TruStories, where we profile members of the Trulife team, what their background is, how their career developed and what they are working on in their current role. We’re delighted to kick off with this inspiring profile on Jay, who has been a core member of the Engineering Department for many years.
Yes, when I was 19 I enlisted in the Army, Airborne Infantry. About two years after I enlisted, my unit was sent to help protect the Kurds in Northern Iraq. I was with a 5-man reconnaissance team pushing South of Turkey into Northern Iraq when I stepped on a landmine. It was May 4th, 1991. Ultimately that resulted in my left leg being amputated below the knee and my right leg was amputated above it. I lost the sight in my left eye but thankfully my right eye was saved. I count myself lucky because my team got me out; there just happened to be a British Marine helicopter in the area and they got to me straight away; that saved my life. Others weren’t so lucky.
Well, it took a long time. When I started to walk and was fitted for prosthesis originally, it was a shock – the technology was so old that they were made from a crude wooden construction. But as a kid I was always involved in snow-boarding, skiing, mountain biking and the like and I was surrounded by technology so I knew there were more advanced materials and better mechanisms out there. It was the disappointment with those prostheses that spurred my interest in this whole area. About 18 months after my injuries I started an engineering course as part of my rehab. It turned out I had an aptitude for it and so I enrolled to do a mechanical engineering degree course at the John Hopkins University. I took a circuitous route to my education. I had started sport skydiving in the summer of ’95 and was thoroughly hooked. I wasn’t in a rush to do anything at that stage though and took 18 months off; I went to Arizona and jumped, a lot! Over the next 15 years I probably did over 2,500 jumps.
When I got discharged from the army I got more modern, better performing prosthesis. And there’s always two sides to it; there’s the technology and there’s the drive you need to stay fit. It’s a push and pull situation; if you can prove your willingness to try, most physicians will do their best to get you what you need but it’s still really hard for a lot of people to get the right devices. So I’m passionate about delivering attainable, effective solutions and that’s what we’re working on at Trulife.
I’ve been involved in the Orthotics and Prosthetics industry for sixteen years now. After I finished my degree in 2000, I started working for the United States Manufacturing Company in California. Ultimately that was taken over by Seattle Systems and I moved to Washington to take up a post there. Then in 2005 Trulife bought the business – so I’ve been working on product development in orthotics and prosthetics for some time at this stage.
Product design is obviously a key aspect of the job and when we develop products there’s a lot of mechanical and technical work to be done. I also work on production support. And many of the major products we’ve delivered have been personally tested by myself – it’s one thing to prove a product will survive a lab test and meet an ISO standard but it’s something else completely to put a device onto your own body and put it through its paces. I’m only happy with what I’d consider to be a gold standard in terms of performance – I want to be able to trust the device completely and I want our customers to have that reassurance too.
We’re really excited to be working on a new product development in our range of prosthetic feet, the Zenith foot. A recent patent expiry on a blade-type foot has opened a whole new window for innovation for companies like Trulife. We are harnessing that core concept of an energy efficient blade and applying our composite capabilities and know-how to develop a product that also bonds the components together in a way that eliminates the need for fasteners. Prosthetics with fasteners have their benefits from a manufacturability and assembly aspect but they don’t look great and fasteners can potentially loosen over time – then there’s a temptation for certain individuals to tamper with the device.
Ultimately we hope to produce a product that’s more accessible for people; it will be priced competitively, light weight, tamper-proof, desirable to wear and durable. I’m really excited to be a core part of the team that will bring this new device to the market and we’re on track for the launch in 2018.
That’s the kind of work we’ll continue into the future; the mission really is to produce solid, durable products at a reasonable price-point. And I’m personally very committed to that objective, that’s for sure.
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