As he walks into his workspace each day, a large, crippled teddy bear greets Hollywood Heights resident Kevin Felton.

It sits at the doorway leading to the large prosthetics and orthotics workshop in the Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, clad awkwardly in the sort of braces Felton puts on kids every day. The bear’s a tad creepy, Felton admits, but there’s sentimental value there.

“It’s sort of our mascot,” says Felton. “Kids don’t seem bothered by it.”

In the workshop over which the bear presides, the mobility of many a child is hand-fashioned. The work of the prosthetists is better known and easily explained — working from direct measurements of children, they handcraft replacement limbs for them. But the braces provided by orthotists like Felton are in far higher demand. Prosthetics were created for about 300 children at the hospital last year; orthopaedic braces, or orthoses, were made for about 3,000.

This disparity owes to the fact that prosthetics deal only with replacing limbs, while orthoses handle a wide variety of conditions. For some children, they’re a thin, plastic brace that fits over a clubfoot, allowing the child to wear regular shoes, run, and even play soccer. For those with hunchbacks or other back problems, they maintain posture during growth, halting the progression of bone deformity. They enable freedom of movement for children with Scoliosis, cerebral palsy sufferers, those with differing leg lengths, and many others, and are given free of charge, per the Scottish Rite’s hospital-wide policy.

“Sometimes you get to be there for the first time a kid walks, and they’re walking because of something you gave them, “Felton says. “That’s really something to see. But more often, it’s a long-term support situation. You work with them, tightening this, straightening that. It’s a time thing. There’s no instant improvement, but you keep the kid active, keep them out there moving around.”

The modern process for making the braces is a vast improvement over the techniques used when Felton started out about 20 years ago, when “everything was made out of leather and metal.” Modern techniques dictate that each child has a mold made of a limb or their torso, which is then filled with plaster and has plastic formed around it, creating the structure of the brace. This creates equipment far more helpful than the strap-heavy braces of yesteryear, Felton says, and more stylish as well. Kids can now choose designs — like butterflies, Scooby Doo, and the especially popular lightning bolts — to adorn some braces.

“It’s gotten so some of the kids are going around showing them off,” Felton says, adding that some patients get Dallas Cowboys helmets or Dallas Stars logos so they can go around flashing their team loyalty. Whatever makes the kids feel better, is Felton’s overriding philosophy.

The heavily braced teddy bear also falls into that somewhere.


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