Invention at Sixteen?

By Jessica Robey, Alexander Panos and Jon Rudder

As a high school student four years ago, Katherine Bomkamp made a discovery that could change many lives around the globe.

Bomkamp was just sixteen years old when she started working on her no-pain socket for prosthetic legs. Katherine’s dad was in the Air Force for 20 years and his last duty station was the Pentagon. Katherine’s family lived right outside Washington, D.C., and she would go to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and see a lot of young amputees who were returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I would talk to them sometimes and I did a lot of research online and phantom pain kept coming up in conversations,” she said. “So I started researching it and found that there is no medication approved on the market for phantom pain.”

She then decided that something should be done about this so amputees don’t have to depend on medication and a life of pain.

Phantom pain is pain of the amputee’s non-existent limb. The brain still sends commands to the limb that is no longer there, but the commands get blocked in the nerve endings, which causes pain. Bomkamp’s pain-free socket would make it so that they amputee would no longer feel the pain of the signals getting blocked and cause the brain to slow completely stop the signals. She took her idea to a science fair and won then the rest was history.

Being so young, Bomkamp worried that many would not take her seriously and would not know how to mentor such a young person. She contacted people all over the nation to get a mentor and finally she found Jake Godak. Godak creates prosthetic limbs, and most of his clients are soldiers coming home from the war. He also teaches classes on how to build prosthetics. He was a little setback by a sixteen year old having such a huge project on her hands.

“She sounded sincere and it sounded like a good idea, might as well give it a shot,” he said. “I agreed to help her and provided her with a prosthetic socket which she put the hardware into and later on I made her a complete leg. I’ve basically been her technical advisor for the prosthetic side of things.”

Godak had been working closely with Bomkamp for almost four years now and they still have a long way to go with the device. The pain-free socket is in its third generation and they hope to get in the fourth generation soon where they can start clinical trials.

“From what I’ve heard about the control circuitry, I think that it opens up quite a few possibilities as far as different electronics that could be incorporated into the socket,” Godak said. “She’s focused on heat right now, but if the control unit is really as adaptable as she is expecting it to be.

Katherine and Godak hope to incorporate a stem unit like an electro-stim unit into it. It could run a vacuum system and actual control components for the leg. Also, changes like a dynamic response from a foot and there are a lot of options as far as they can go in the future with the pain-free socket.

Bomkamp has recently been featured in Glamour Magazine as one of the 21 amazing young women in the country.

“That was a really cool experience I definitely didn’t expect it,” she said. “We still don’t know how they got my name or anything like that but it was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity and experience so it was really great.”

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