A Brandon-based prosthetics firm has developed a new skin production technique that allows the company to make life-like prosthetic devices for amputees around the world.
Alatheia Prosthetics has developed Dermatos prosthetic skin that mimics the appearance, feel and durability of patients’ skin. The trademarked process, named after the Greek word for “of skin,” will be used to create prostheses as small as a fingertip or as large as an entire leg, customized to meet the specific needs of each patient.
“Six out of every thousand Americans are amputees, and that number will only increase as Baby Boomers age,” said Michael Kaczkowski, co-founder and president of Alatheia Prosthetics, a New York artist who moved to Mississippi to grow the company.
The first five years of the company, established in 1999, were spent researching and developing proprietary/patented technologies. By 2000, Kaczkowski was fitting amputees, but remained under the radar.
“We knew we had a world-class product, but we weren’t in a rush,” he said. “We spent several years improving Dermatos, coming up with some patented color-matching technology, and products for the Medicare market.”
When seeking a permanent base of operations, Kaczkowski chose Central Mississippi.
“There were a lot of good reasons to select Jackson, other than already having quite a few business contacts here,” he said. “I really liked the area and the culture, and I was impressed by the growing professional health community, with really top-notch surgeons from all over the world.”
A native of Orange County, N.Y., born to Italian parents who excelled in artistry and engineering, Kaczkowski began crafting body parts into sculptures as a teenager.
“I would make molds of hands or full bodies and mount them on a wall,” he explained. “From there, I went to the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan on a scholarship and also worked at a prosthetics company. My life went two ways: I started learning new technologies with clinical experience while maintaining my other artistic endeavors, and my works became mechanical pieces. That came in handy when I started my own company to develop and improve the technology.”
Dermatos uses proprietary medical grade silicone in the construction of durable yet functional life-like skins that simulate the visual properties of the three layers of human skin: the epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous.
“The single-layer technology is already readily available and doesn’t look real,” said Kaczkowski. “By creating a prosthetic device that basically looks indistinguishable from human skin, you enable patients to go through rehabilitation because now they’re not stigmatized by having an amputation. For example, we made a very functional arm for a neurosurgeon, who said it changed his life. Patients no longer knew he was an amputee, and it put him at ease.”
Once a prosthesis is constructed to match the structural and functional dimensions to suit the individual patient, Alatheia architects devote hours making sure each product fits cosmetically, down to the last crease, pore, fingerprint and color tone, explained Kaczkowski.
“We strive to mimic all of the visual and tactile characteristics of each patient’s human skin,” he said, pointing out that the Dermatos epidermis skin layer even includes a simulated melanin. “When our patients spend time in the sun causing their real skin to tan, we supply them with a topical prosthetic melanin Derma-tan to apply to their prosthesis to match their new tan. Derma-tan has even been designed to fade over time, like a real sun tan.”
Depending on the complexity of the product, the process takes from one to three months to create a product for a patient, explained Alatheia co-founder Emil Dovan.
“Our products are customized on multiple levels,” said Kaczkowski. “This makes us a highly unique commodity for prospective patients and practitioners purchasing our products, and requires us to maintain ongoing contact with these individuals. These relationships have helped us develop a significant referral network of prosthetists in every area of specialization.”
Since marketing the Dermatos process through a growing physician referral network and the Internet, Alatheia Prosthetics has created custom prostheses for people worldwide. The rapid growth potential has prompted the company to employ 11 full-time and eight part-time employees and to open satellite operations in Los Angeles, New York and Greensboro, N.C.
By 2010, Kaczkowski anticipates manufacturing products to serve a network of active cosmetic branches in the U.S. and abroad, each running independently and scheduling patients for measurements and post-production fittings. He quickly added that the company will remain headquartered in Jackson.
“Mississippi’s growing medical community has helped us build a firm foundation of business right in our own backyard,” he said. “At the same time, our proximity to the Jackson Airport has helped us serve approximately 300 patients across all seven continents without missing a beat.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.