They say that necessity is the mother of invention.
That maybe true, but it takes a man to make it a reality all with the stuff in his garage.
Lance Matthews, a fifth generation farmer from Ontario, Canada, had no idea he was about to revolutionize the world of crutches. It was a day like any other, and Matthews was mending the barn roof on the family farm. He slipped on a loose patch, and the next thing he knew, Matthews was falling from the roof. The resultant fall left him with a badly broken foot. Not having any alternatives, his physician prescribed crutches. In addition to the injury, Matthews was now unable to do his day to day activities without outside assistance.
For Matthews, this simply wasn’t good enough. “There has to be a better way”, he thought. “What am I doing with these two sticks?” Matthews recalls, “They are tremendously impractical, uncomfortable, and ridiculous.” After researching the market, he was amazed to find that there actually wasn’t a better way. So he invented one.
Matthews developed a revolutionary crutch that would meet the mobility needs of people with lower leg injuries, yet keep their hands free. Because of this, Matthews named the device iWALKFREE.
The inspiration for the iWALKFREE came, oddly enough, while shaving. Matthews found a stool located conveniently nearby, and kneeled on it while shaving. The moment of inspiration came when he thought, “You know, if I could strap this stool to my leg…”
The idea stuck, and Matthews, also an accomplished carpenter, took to his workshop and constructed the first iWALKFREE prototype out of wood in less than an hour. And it worked. It really worked. The wooden hands-free crutch gave him full use of his arms and hands, and worked so well that it allowed him to remain active and independent during his rehabilitation. He was able to resume normal activity. Immediately.
Matthews didn’t set out to start an orthopedic device company. But the device was noticed by the good doctors and orthopaedic technologists at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Science Center – one of the leading orthopaedic research facilities in North America. They were thrilled with the possibilities that this new crutch substitute brought. Clinical trials were immediately started and patent protection obtained.
Refinement of the design and production began shortly thereafter. Early production prototype work was refined with the assistance of a variety of professional advisors and the device received a Medical Device Establishment License from Health Canada’s Therapeutic Products Programme. In 1999 the Canadian Minister of Health approved the iWALKFREE as a Class 1 medical device.
The newly designed crutch was made of extruded aluminum and engineered plastics. iWALKFREE was launched to Canadian consumers in June of 2000. Shortly thereafter, iWALKFREE was registered as a medical device with the United States FDA and received CEN certification in Europe.
And iWALKFREE has been the subject of numerous clinical and university studies and won numerous awards, including the prestigious Manning Innovation Award, “Best New Product” at Medtrade (North America’s largest medical trade show). It has been featured in the popular media, including newspaper, television, radio and internet articles, CBC Television, ABC Television (U.S.), Global Television, and CTV to name just a few.
Today, thousands of enthusiastic users have proven that there is a better way. Once again, from a simple idea and an unwillingness to accept the status quo, and industry was changed forever.
Story from the iWALKfree manufacturer's website