Walking a New Path

By Beacon Staff

It’s the nature of life that everything can change in a moment. There are events that transform us forever, leading us on paths we hadn’t considered or even known were there.

For Whitefish native Ian Reynolds, 26, life changed when he decided to mess with homemade pyrotechnics.

“I was playing with homemade fireworks, and I took shrapnel to the rear end,” Reynolds said. “It severed my sciatic nerve.”

The sciatic nerve begins in the lower back, travels through the buttock and down the leg. When he severed it, Reynolds lost feeling in his leg and foot. His first remedy was to work with orthotics, to brace his leg.

But after two years, in 2008, Reynolds decided to have it amputated below the knee. His first prosthesis wasn’t exceptionally comfortable, he said, and it wasn’t until he visited Kendall Carpenter at Glacier Prosthetic Care that he found the new leg he was looking for.

“It changed my life,” Reynolds said. “From that point, he had me in a comfortable-fitting leg and I could do all the things I’d missed doing.”

This included hiking and rock climbing, and recently, the Spartan Race in Bigfork.

As an artistic person who previously worked with pottery and photography, Reynolds felt drawn to fabricating prosthetics, eventually starting work with Carpenter in 2008.

Prosthetics allowed him to indulge his creativity, while also helping him understand options for amputees.

“It’s not only a leg; it’s a piece of art,” Reynolds said. “The creative opportunity and options – it’s endless.”

Under Carpenter’s mentorship, Reynolds learned the craft while also earning his Associate of Applied Sciences degree at Spokane Falls Community College. He worked for Carpenter’s Sandpoint, Idaho office for about a year, and then came back home to the Flathead.

“Being here and just focusing on work was ideal,” he said.

But everything came to halt on Nov. 5, when Carpenter suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 57. The business came to a standstill, Reynolds said, and once they had wrapped their heads around the tragedy, they had to figure out how to keep the doors open.

For a while, a registered clinician oversaw their efforts, Reynolds said. Then, earlier this year, Reynolds took and passed the national test deeming him a certified prosthetist.

And even though he’d completed prosthetic fabrication courses, it was Carpenter’s influence that helped Reynolds the most, he said.

“A lot of what Kendall taught me in the shop helped,” Reynolds said.

This means Reynolds no longer needs a clinician to oversee his work, and he can bill insurance for his efforts. Glacier Prosthetics Care shut down on June 30 to help facilitate the transfer of leases and tools to Reynolds, and reopened this month.

“I never thought I was going to be a business owner,” Reynolds said. “I didn’t want to see Kendall’s business fade away.”

Gina Carpenter, Kendall’s wife, said Reynolds’ personality and passion for what he does makes her believe wholeheartedly that he will continue her late husband’s legacy as a caring, responsive prosthetist.

Ian Reynolds stands on a custom-made orthopedic flip flop and his prosthetic leg while working at Glacier Prosthetic Care in Kalispell. – Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

“Being an amputee, he gets it. He’s seen the clinical side; he’s seen the patient side. That’s first hand experience right there,” Gina Carpenter said. “He didn’t select this career, it selected him through his accident.”

“He has such a desire to actually listen to people and he really does. It’s fun to watch,” she said.
Gina Carpenter also noted that Reynolds will be able to make a legacy of his own, due to his various interests. He will be able to focus solely on prosthetics, while Niles Velin handles orthotics.

While he waits for business to pick up again, Reynolds spends time working on his own pieces – being an amputee allows him to be his own “guinea pig” for new techniques, he said – and also creates other types of fabrications, like masks and body armor, to keep his skills sharp.

While showing visitors around his shop on North Meridian Road, Reynolds points to his flip-flop, which he fabricated to fit his foot perfectly.

His work is all done by hand, which can be anomalistic in a world of computer programs capable of creating prosthetics.

“It’s all pretty personalized,” Reynolds said.

He never would have found his calling in prosthetics if he hadn’t made the decision that led to his accident, Reynolds said. Viewing it as a positive in his life has made all the difference.

“It’s amazing how life just puts you on these paths,” he said. “You may think it’s an accident, you may think it’s the worst time in your life, but everything happens for a reason.”

For more information on Glacier Prosthetics Care, call (406) 755-3344.

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