One gleamed like Iron Man’s armor. Another showed the fierce-eyed visage of an eagle against a field of stars. A third looked as sleek and colorful as the tail fin of a pink Cadillac.
“Look at that hot-pink socket!” said Dan Horkey, an amputee who has set out to infuse art into artificial limbs.
Horkey, 51, said he felt better the day he threw away his dull, flesh-hued prosthetic leg for one he had cast himself and decorated with wild flames streaming over the socket. Now he’s working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to help vets, particularly a growing number of female amputees, step out in style.
“They tell me they want their legs to look flashy or sparkly,” said Horkey, who lost part of his left leg in a motorcycle accident 30 years ago. “They want wings or diamonds.” One female vet wanted airbrushed pictures on her prosthetics of two comrades who died in the blast that took her legs. “A lot of female veterans want to honor the fallen,” Horkey said.
Horkey’s wares were on display at “The Girls’ Lounge,” an exhibit hosted by Veterans Affairs and a women’s networking group at the two-day National Maker Faire on the campus of the University of the District of Columbia. The festival is a geeky, playful showcase of innovation, engineering and science.
Women accounted for about 2 percent — or 226 — of 12,581 battle-related military casualties involving traumatic injuries to extremities in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003 to 2013. That’s according to a 2013 report prepared for the Extremity Trauma and Amputation Center of Excellence, a research organization for Veterans Affairs and the Defense Department.
“More and more, there are women in combat who are coming back” injured, said Andrea Ippolito, a presidential innovation fellow at Veterans Affairs. The report also said a greater percentage, 6 percent, of female service members suffered such injuries in non-battle situations.
Ippolito said female amputees have trouble finding artificial limbs that fit their smaller bodies, including narrower shoulders and wider hips.
In addition to the prosthetics display, the festival hosted by NationOfMakers.org and Maker Media features instruction in robotics as well as exhibits on 3-D printing, virtual reality and other cutting-edge technology. Drones whizzed around the university’s gymnasium, and side by side with futuristic gadgets was a booth that allowed visitors to transform magnifying lenses into wood-burning tools.
Yoshi Maisami, an organizer of the fair, said the event built on last year’s DC Mini Maker Faire. The aim is to showcase tinkerers and inventors from across the country while also promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. This year’s fair has drawn more than 20 universities, including Tribal Colleges from Alaska and Hawaii.
Federal agencies were heavily represented, including NASA, the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. Organizers expect the two-day event, which continues Saturday, to draw about 20,000 visitors.
Ippolito said Veterans Affairs teamed up with the Ipsos Girls’ Lounge, a networking group for corporate women, to host the exhibit promoting ways to personalize prosthetics, particularly for women.
Shelley Zalis, a marketer who founded the Ipsos Girls’ Lounge, said female amputees have found it difficult to put on lipstick or unsnap a bra with existing prosthetic devices. And pregnant women need prosthetics that can change and adapt as their bodies change.
As part of Veterans Affairs’s Innovation Creation Series, the organizations are hoping to drive technological innovation among the public, private businesses and academia in ways that will benefit former members of the armed forces.
“The Ipsos Girls’ Lounge is really about empowering and energizing women in companies around the world,” she said.