Made in Michigan: Orthotech prosthetic limbs

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FLINT TOWNSHIP (WJRT) (04/19/18)--Consider it a one of a kind Flint Township factory of sorts, one that's making everything from arms and legs to hands and feet.

"On any given day, you might see a custom prosthetic being made. We'll have above amputees, below knee amputees. Yesterday I did a face mask," said Orthotech owner & CEO Mike Bugg.

Over the last 35 years, Orthotech has grown into one of the nation's go-to-sources for orthotic braces and prosthetic limbs. Bugg oversees the handmade production of five to ten prosthetic limbs every week. That's several hundred over the course of a year. The bulk of production happens in this Miller Road lab and at another facility in West Branch. Limbs are custom crafted for each patient. They're typically made quickly and on short notice.

"We do it right now. If I across and see them and if they're ready, I'll cast them and can have their leg the next day," said Bugg.

Orthotech now has patients all over the United States. It's a third generation familiy business, and for Bugg, a career calling that's very personal.

"My grandfather was an amputee. My father has done this for 60 years, my brother has done this for 40. I've done this for 33 years. Now my son does this as well. I've been in the shop my whole entire life," said Bugg.

In recent years, Orthotech has been working closing with the VA.

"We are the preferred provider in Michigan for all the veterans and I love how they look at things and what the veterans get. They put a lot on us. It makes us do a better job and makes us feel like we're doing something important," said Bugg.

Along those lines, meet twelve year old McKenzie Lahar. She was born without a left foot and underwent amputation in 2014. McKenzie says her prosthetic limb allows her to just be a kid.

"I had troubles and pain and here I am. I play sports, I ride things with motors," she said.

The industry continues to evolve. Back when Orthotech was founded, limbs were made out of wood. Now they're changing constantly with technology. Before insurance, they can run anywhere from $3,000 thousand to $50,000 thousand dollars.

"It's getting better everyday. Our materials, our gels, our silicons, our suspension aids. Some are held on with pins, some are held on with vacuums," said Bugg.

Bugg is proud to say that all of his prosthetics are one hundred percent Michigan-made. That includes all of the small components, and for good reason.

"We had the automotive industry and some of the smartest engineers in the world here in Detroit and in Flint, Michigan. We did that the same with prosthetics," said Bugg.

It's that home grown approach that has Orthotech providing jobs for 16 people, with more jobs possibly on the way.

"A lot of these technicians have been with me seventeen or eighteen years. I've watched them come from kids to now having boats and a house and the American dream. I would never give that up," said Bugg.

Besides a paycheck, there's one other important gift that Bugg loves providing most.

"There are no limits that these people can have and that's where I really get my enjoyment, giving them their life back," he said.