We at UYD would like to wish you all a Happy Veterans Day! Today’s interview features an amazing lady who has figured out a way to help impact the lives of so many veteran families. Enjoy!
UYD: What is your entrepreneurship story and what problem did you want to solve?
Katherine Bomkamp: I grew up in a military family, and by the time I was 18, I’d lived in 7 states, 16 houses and attended 10 different schools. My dad’s last duty station was at the Pentagon, so we were living outside of Washington D.C. when I was in high school. I would go with my dad to the (then) largest military medical hospital, Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Sitting in waiting rooms, I would talk to wounded veterans, and eventually heard about this medical phenomenon called phantom limb pain, or pain in a nonexistent limb.
After further research, I learned that there was no cure for phantom limb pain, although it was experienced by 80% of the world’s 10 million amputees. Most patients are commonly prescribed anti-psychotics and narcotics, drugs that are both expensive and have a high addiction rate. I wanted to see if I could somehow eliminate this pain without the use of these medications. As a result of these conversations, I invented, developed, and patented a holistic prosthetic device, called the Pain Free Socket that has the potential to eliminate phantom limb pain in amputees.
The Pain Free Socket incorporates the concept of thermal biofeedback, or highly concentrated and controlled heat, to stimulate severed nerve endings in the residual limb, forcing the brain to focus on the heat rather than to continue to send signals and commands down to a limb that’s no longer there. Powered by a solar battery, the user wirelessly sets the heat settings based on the amount of pain they are experiencing at that time, and the device is powered by a solar battery.
UYD: Wow! That’s impressive that you came up with that. I’m very curious about what it was like during the early days. Could you walk me through the processes that were involved? How did you get buy-in and what type of resistance if any did you receive?
KB: When I invented the Pain Free Socket, I was a 10th grader and 16 years old. It is incredibly difficult to convince the medical world to take you seriously at that young age! I didn’t know if my idea was even feasible at that point, I just knew I had an idea that I wanted to pursue. I started calling prosthetic companies all over the US, looking to find a mentor in the industry. I had to go all the way to California (and had to stop telling people how old I was!), but I eventually found a fantastic mentor who took a big chance on me. He’s been building all of my prosthetics ever since!
UYD: You touched on it there a bit but could you expand on some of the challenges?
KB: It is a huge challenge to undertake a project like this with limited funds and no medical background. I surrounded myself with mentors who added credibility to my work, and were able to teach me all of the skills I needed to go through the product and business development process. I learned everything from programming skills to how to write a business plan from them, and feel like I got a highly comprehensive informal education because of it!
UYD: I see. It sounds like you surrounded your self with team members that could complement you. What is your overall vision for your company and your invention?
KB: I hope to be able to get the Pain Free Socket to those who need it most within the next 5 years. There is an incredible amount of testing and product development that goes into taking this to market, and we are navigating that process right now.
UYD: Tell me what it felt like when you first noticed that what you are doing was making an impact.
KB: I first realized that my work was making an impact when amputees from all over the world started contacting me asking about how they could get the Pain Free Socket for themselves, and sharing their stories with me. Knowing that this product I made will help improve someone’s quality of life is incredibly rewarding.
UYD: I bet! It must be an incredible feeling for sure and I just want to commend you for doing all that you do. Staying in the same lane if you could solve a world problem what would it be?
KB: There are so many, it’s hard to pick just one! I would love to see a world where no human being ever went to bed hungry.
UYD: Fair enough! That would certainly be nice. The whole premise of this platform is to encourage others to use their difference to make a difference so how do you Katherine use your difference to make a difference?
KB: I hope that by sharing my story, people realize that they can work to solve problems in their communities with limited resources or no prior knowledge of a subject. I certainly did not have a medical degree when I invented the Pain Free Socket, but I believed that my idea had value and it was worth pursuing. Three years later, I was invited to be the youngest presenter at the Royal Society of Medicine’s Summit on Innovation in London and presented my research to 300 medical experts who agreed with me! I also hope that I have been able to bring to the national consciousness the challenges that military veterans face when they return home from a warzone. There are incredible sacrifices being made for us daily by our military members and their families, and that is very easy to forget. My father’s service is one of my biggest inspirations and motivations in life. My parents always showed us by example what it meant to be dedicated to a cause larger than ourselves, and I try to emulate that in my daily life.
UYD: I love it! Well we are at the end of this interview but tell us how we can get involved and where we can find out more about what you’re up to?
KB: To learn more about the Pain Free Socket and hear more of my story (as well as learn about some fantastic nonprofits that support our wounded veterans!) you can visit my website at www.katherinebomkamp.com