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San Francisco VA Medical Center

 

Prosthetist Restores Confidence for Veterans

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David Hoehn in his lab at SFVAMC's Restoration Clinic

Chief of Restoration Clinic David Hoehn at work. Each prosthesis he creates is custom fit from an impression and fabricated with hi-tech materials that can include methyl methacrylate acrylic, platinum silicones and light-fast pigments, combining art and science for lifelike results. (photo by Ed Caballero)

By Kellie Burdette Mendonca, Public Affairs Specialist
Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Since early childhood, David Hoehn has been fascinated with making life-like characters and creatures. “As a kid, I was always encouraged to be creative with drawing, sculpting and experimenting with different materials. My parents gave me full access to the basement where I was able to grow as an artist.”

The San Francisco native joined the SFVAMC Restoration Clinic in 1992 as a restoration technician. Today, as a Certified Clinical Anaplastologist and Chief of SFVAMC’s Restoration Clinic, David’s work helps restore functionality and confidence to over 120 Veterans each year.

What do you do for Veterans? “I create very realistic ocular (eye) and facial prosthetics, covering sometimes large defects caused by disease or injury,” says David. “I essentially provide a very realistic ‘patch’ that fits exactly to the contours of the patient’s anatomy. This can include nasal, auricular (ear), facial, ocular and finger prosthetics, and all its variations.”

“Restorative prosthetics would seem purely cosmetic, but there are functional and psychological aspects that can’t be ignored, says David. “Functionally, infections are minimized due to the prosthesis acting as a barrier, protecting delicate tissues from dust and debris. It helps psychologically because the patient’s confidence in public has been restored.”

Are ocular and facial prosthetics labor-intensive to create? “Eyes are very complex with all their nuances in depth, anatomy and coloring,” says David. “It takes about one week to make a facial prosthesis because of the detailed modeling, molding, casting, mult-layered coloration and fitting process. There are some facial prostheses that can be very challenging- and I love challenges! ” Each prosthesis is custom fit from an impression and fabricated with hi-tech materials, combining science and art for lifelike results.

How long does it take for a patient to receive a custom-made eye? “I provide a really great service for Veterans who need artificial eyes,” says David. “Many patients tell me it took them months to have their eye made elsewhere. I usually make an eye in one day! Because the work flow is continuous and the patient is seen three times during the course of the day, nothing is overlooked.” If that’s inconvenient for a patient, David accommodates them by scheduling short visits on different days.

“I like to have very clear communication with the patient,” says David. “Their happiness is important to me. By explaining each step of the process, patients can have a better idea of what to expect. It’s important to know their expectations, how it relates to what I’m able to do and what the outcome will be. I also instruct them on how to use their prosthesis and how to take care of it for longevity.”

In his spare time, David has invented new processes and techniques to further the field of Anaplastology.

He is also an eye maker for special-effects heads, aliens and creatures for over 30 films and television shows. Here is just a partial list: Films: Underworld: Awakening (2012); X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009); The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008): Alien vs Predator: Requiem (2007); Starship Troopers (2007); Sleepy Hollow (1999); Bride of Chucky (1998); Jumanji (1995); TV: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992); Fringe (2001); Big Love (2010); and HBO’s Tales from the Crypt (1995).

“I find what I do at SFVAMC to be gratifying, because it makes people happy,” says David. “It’s for the Veterans. If they are happy, then I know what I’ve done is good.”