jan stokosa named crain's 2020 health care hero

When Angela Zaremba, who had a leg amputated when she was 12 years old, went to see Jan Stokosa, director and certified prosthetics practitioner of the Stokosa Prosthetic Clinic in Okemos, she had heard he would go the extra mile for his patients.

Zaremba, who was 46 at the time and had multiple prosthetic devices fitted over the years, was optimistic after her first visit in 1996.

“The visit began the same as previous visits to other prosthetic clinics,” Zaremba wrote in her Health Care Hero nomination letter. “He listened to my specific mobility needs, but then he sent me home with homework to do. He gave me specific exercises in applying pressure on the end of my stump before my next visit. This had never happened to me in a prosthetic appointment before.”

Zaremba said Stokosa fitted her with a prosthetic leg that, with regular adjustments, has served her well for 26 years.

Stokosa, 74, said he has treated thousands of patients such as Zaremba over his 50-year career. He specializes in prosthetics for transtibial (below-the-knee) amputations. 

“I’ve seen people from every state in the U.S. and 30 different countries and there is one common theme I hear and is the reason I am seeing them. They say, ‘Practitioners don’t take time to listen to me,’” said Stokosa. “‘They hit me with this prosthesis, I get physical therapy training and that’s it.’ I take time to listen to them and what they want to accomplish in life.”

Stokosa said it takes four to 12 weeks to complete the process for a prosthetic fitting and education on use. “It is a very intensive process,” with appointments lasting up to two hours, he said.

Prosthetics is both an art and science, Stokosa said, because every person is different. Therefore, he said, every fitting is custom.

“There are seven ways to connect a prosthesis to the human body, the upper and lower limbs,” he said. “We decide the interface, what’s going to touch the skin first and be protected from all the stresses and pressures of weight bearing.”

 In 1962, Stokosa’s father, Walter, founded the family’s original prosthetics clinic in Jackson after helping to create the prosthetics and orthotics department in the 1950s at the University of Michigan. Walter pioneered the silicon liner that interfaced with the skin and sockets that joins the residual limb (stump) to the prosthesis, Stokosa said.

Starting in his pre-teen years, Stokosa’s father taught him the basics of prosthetics, as well as anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics and materials technology. Before going to college at Northwestern University in Chicago, where he graduated in the school’s first prosthetics practitioner program in the late 1960s, he performed all laboratory fabricating procedures for patients under his father’s supervision.

After his father died, Stokosa moved the clinic to Lansing in 1974 and operated it with a partner until 1989, when he decided to slow his practice down. He opened a smaller clinic in Okemos with four employees.

Over the years, Stokosa has been recognized and contributed to the prosthetic profession in many ways. He wrote a chapter on limb prosthetics in the Merck Manual. 

He was also recognized by the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame in Ishpeming for establishing handicapped skiing in Michigan.

“I taught Alpine skiing for 17 years to kids and adults with amputations, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, polio and (blindness) — at Pine Knob, Mt. Holly in the Detroit area and every ski area up north,” Stokosa said.

Given his long history in the practice, his patients wonder if they are running out of time to work with Stokosa.

“For the last five years, actually more than that, patients have been asking when you’re gonna retire because (they) want to get (their prosthetic) reset so we can last as long as possible,” Stokosa said. “(Retirement) is not in my vocabulary. I enjoy what I am doing and am successful because (many) people say that I’ve helped them.”

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