Walk In Faith

Continuing the family business of physical and spiritual care
Photo: Alex Michl

For Mike Brown, every day is a new opportunity to glorify God with his work and resources.

Mike is a certified prosthetist who manages Hanger Clinic in the Downtown Mercy Medical Plaza. Mike, of Walnut Creek Downtown, set out to be a dermatologist after completing his undergrad at Union College, but the family business quickly won his heart. His grandfather, uncle, father, and brother are all certified prosthetists, either current or retired. 

“After working for my dad for awhile, I got to see the impact that you can have on people’s lives,” Mike said. “Somebody has their limb amputated, and you’re there for them in their darkest place, from the time they first learn how to walk, then basically for the rest of their life, because they keep coming back for their prosthetic needs.”

"You’re there for them in their darkest place."

Prosthetic Progress
Getting to spend so much time with patients was one of the reasons Mike chose to continue the family tradition. The culture of continual technological progress was also of great interest to him, even if it was built out of devastating consequences.

“Usually what spurs advances on in our field, unfortunately, is war. With us being in consistent war times right now, the VA and other organizations are spear-heading a lot of research,” Mike said. New prosthetics, such as bionic feet and hands, originally designed to restore lost function for soldiers, eventually reach the private sector. 

One of the new developments Mike is exploring is a hydraulic-controlled foot that will actually allow ankle motion, something previous models of prosthetics could never replicate. As a patient walks up and down ramps and slopes, the microprocessor detects the forces that are being applied on the prosthetic and adjusts accordingly. The foot will even keep up with different speeds. 

“It helps the patient walk a little smoother without as much energy expenditure. They become less tired and are able to do more as a result,” Mike said. “We can even connect with Bluetooth and make adjustments to accommodate what’s comfortable.” 

While Mike revels in the advances of his field, he often unexpectedly deals with science fiction in his own workplace. “People have unrealistic expectations. A lot of people become disappointed when it comes to where we are with technology because they want their limb to be the same as what it was,” Mike said. “I had to tell somebody, ‘Listen, this is not a realistic goal. We don’t have anything like this anywhere in the world, and I can’t create it for you.’”

And as exciting as it may be, a hydraulic foot will never perfectly replace a healthy, functioning human ankle, because the human body was designed by the author and perfecter of life. Creation reflects the creator. 

“I’ll have people coming in with magazines,” Mike said, describing patients who learn about a new piece of technology they believe will work for them and want it immediately. “I have to keep up with what’s out there.”

Beyond the Call
Mike admitted even though he had plenty of vicarious experiences in prosthetics, his biggest shock when starting his career was the depth of the relationships he built with his patients and the level of need people have.

“I didn’t expect to become as close with patients. I thought it would be very professional. My wife and I and our kids will go to their house for Christmas parties," Mike said. 

His care extends beyond his patients' external circumstances. "I am, in a lot of cases, the only person who really listens to them. Some of them will actually come in just to have an excuse to talk to somebody," Mike said. "That’s been really powerful to me, and it’s sad that they don’t have anybody in their lives that will listen to them. They’ll start talking about family troubles or problems with friends. I’ve had some people talk to me about abusive relationships. Anything could come up.”

This need for community and relationships is clearly revealed in the design of human nature, and it seems the Lord has also used Mike’s career to reveal the depths of people’s need for hope, and ultimately, renewal in Christ.

“Anybody can be broken. It just shows you how vulnerable people can be. But they’re also very resilient. When these tragedies happen, you not only get to see the Lord but other people helping these individuals out in such a way that they can get back to normal living," Mike said. "I have a lot of opportunities to talk to people about Christ because it comes up. People want to talk about everything when they’re in their darkest state. It’s been a good learning experience for me trying to share the Gospel. People are surprisingly receptive.”