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Improving Amputees' Quality Of Life With Prosthetics

Greg Doerr of Kirkwood & Manny Rivera of Ladue opened Premier Prosthetics 8 years ago. They now have over 1,500 patients within a 120-mile radius

Brooke Schuessler of Perryville is able to ride her horse thanks to a specialized horseback-riding prosthetic. photo courtesy Premier Prosthetics.

November 10, 2017
Brooke Schuessler is able to run and ride horseback again despite having lost a leg nine years ago after an accident. Schuessler's new opportunities are thanks to Kirkwood-based Premier Prosthetics and Orthotics.

The company provided Schuessler, a 21-year-old from Perryville, with a specialized horseback-riding prosthetic in the winter of 2016 and a running prosthetic this summer.

"The company made a huge difference in me being able to ride my horses, and run and do everything else I have to do. This company is the best," Schuessler said. "I didn't have to pay for the running prosthetic at all. And the riding leg was made by Premier taking my old walking leg and cutting parts out on it so I could use it for riding. Then I just got a new walking leg, which my insurance paid for upgrading."

Schuessler's insurance company pays for a prosthetic for walking, working and going to school. But insurance companies consider specialized prosthetics, like a running leg, as luxury items and are not covered.

Greg Doerr, a Kirkwood resident, is co-owner of eight-year-old Premier Prosthetics with Manny Rivera. The two men teamed up with a national organization, the Challenged Athletes Foundation, to get Schuessler the donation of a prosthetic foot. Premier donated the specialized prosthetic socket for running to which the foot was attached.

Matt Ruengert is a certified prosthetist with Premier, as are Rivera and Doerr. Doerr also is a certified orthotist. Ruengert worked with Schuessler on her running leg, as well as a horseback riding prosthetic. He has been her practitioner since her amputation.

From left: Matt Ruengert, a certified prosthetist with Premier Prosthetics, with owners Manny Rivera and Greg Doerr. photo by Diana Linsley.

"She had always been active, and her goal was to start running again and exercising. We explored various avenues to help her. Equipment and parts for these types of specialized prosthetics can cost $15,000 to $20,000," Ruengert said.

The process of casting, fabricating and fitting her with the prosthetics for both sports was done at the Kirkwood lab, located at 343 S. Kirkwood Road.

Quality Of Life

Doerr said he has always been interested in the medical field. As a student at Oakville High School, he volunteered at Shriner's Hospital, where he was introduced to prosthetics.

"I enjoy the end result of helping people walk. Our clients have gone through the hard stuff of losing legs, and they're so excited when they come here," Doerr said.

Rivera said he became interested in prosthetics after returning to St. Louis for winter break during his senior year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"There was an individual who had moved next door to my parents' house who had lost both legs and arms in a fire he had four prosthetics," Rivera said. "I later volunteered at a prosthetics facility and prosthetics ended up being my calling. I enjoy having a direct impact on patients' quality of life."

Premier Prosthetics created a leg for Red, a golden retriever born without a front leg. photo courtesy Premier Prosthetics.

Premier Prosthetics serves more than 1,500 patients from about a 120-mile radius. Many of those patients require specialty prosthetics.

One of those patients is Matthew Bradley of Sunset Hills, an orthopedic surgeon in Kirkwood.

"We've been working with him for likely 20 years," Doerr said. "He has a specialty prosthesis for performing surgery and another for golfing. And we helped him get a sled for sled hockey."

Alexander Schwartz is a 22-year-old actor from St. Louis who recently had a role in the production of "Mercy Street" on PBS.

"We had gotten him prosthetics for hiking, running and working out," Doerr said. "About a month ago, he won a trip to Iceland. A manufacturer of prosthetic components was doing a contest called 'My Winning Moments,' and he (Schwartz) submitted a video of what he's gone through. It was very inspirational and he won the contest."

Premier Prosthetics supports the Disabled Athletes Sports Association and works with "Segs for Vets," which provides Segways for military veterans. Premier also works with the government organization Vocational Rehab for people who want to change careers and need a specialized prosthetic to do so.

Ruengert serves on the Disabled Athletes Sports Association's board.

"They'll come to us for adaptive sports equipment such as for sled hockey or wheelchair rugby," Ruengert said. "For instance, we helped a girl missing both arms who couldn't propel a racing wheelchair. We came up with a device to create extensions off the prosthetic arms to propel the wheelchair so she can do races."

Premier's work trucks are mobile labs that are taken to sports events to assist athletes' needs, if required.

This summer, Premier hosted a free amputee running clinic at the South County Family YMCA.

"We had a manufacturer come in to fit people for a specialized running foot, to let them use it for a couple hours to see what it's like to start running again," Ruengert said. "We can direct people to foundations and do letters of recommendation for them."

It's not only people who are helped.

"We even had a lady who owned a golden retriever named Red, who was born without a front leg, come to us. He would have been put down, but Matt created a leg for him," Doerr said.

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