Joe Johnson didn’t spend any time at all trying to decide what to do with his life. The die was cast when, as an athletic 12-year-old, he lost his leg below the knee in a motocross accident in his hometown of Cheyenne, Wyoming. But that didn’t stop him. He began to ski, and by 1994, he was good enough to represent the United States in the Paralympic Winter Games.
It was one of the sponsors of his skiing who first introduced him to prosthetics as a career and encouraged his interest in it. “My dad was a mechanic, and I think I inherited his skill in that area,” Johnson said. He earned an American Board for Certification (ABC) in prosthetics at Colorado State University, and then set up his own shop. In those early days, he was the only employee.
Today, Quorum Orthotics employs 15 people and has offices in Cheyenne and in Aurora, Colorado, in addition to his home-base facility in Windsor, Colorado, where he lives.
Johnson’s prosthesis originates below his knee, the most common and often the most difficult to fit prosthesis. Based on his personal experience, he specializes in working with hard-to-fit amputees, a challenge he approaches with a high degree of understanding. He says that it is possible to attain 90 percent of prior use within a year after being fitted.
There have been amazing advances since Johnson got his first prosthesis—made from wood—in 1984. Today, technicians use 3-D imaging and lightweight materials, such as carbon fiber, to make state-of-the-art devices.
Johnson has a patent pending for the Quatro socket that allows a user to make small adjustments to his or her above-the-knee prosthesis during the course of a day. Residual limbs tend to be larger in the morning and smaller during the later part of the day. The Quatro makes it possible for the user to maintain a comfortable fit at all times by turning a dial, much like one found on a hard hat. Several patients are already using the high-tech socket.
Helping as many amputees as possible has always been Johnson’s goal. He sponsors a golf tournament every year at Pelican Lakes in Windsor to raise funds for amputees. He teaches at Children’s Hospital in Denver. One of his most satisfying patients was a nine-year-old boy from Haiti, who lost his leg in a fall from a rooftop. Johnson provided his prosthesis at no cost and helped him learn to use it before he went home.
“Where is my leg?” the boy asked on arrival.
“We have to make it,” Johnson replied. He got the job done in a record two days.
While recent knee surgery has curtailed Johnson’s skiing for a while, he continues to work out and to encourage his patients to bowl, play golf, climb rocks—whatever they love to do most. He is passionate about making it possible for amputees to reach their full potential—and he sets the example.