At 84 years old Alfred Denison, CLP, may be the oldest practicing prosthetist in the United States. Though he was drafted into the military before graduating from high school, his attention to detail, dedication to patient mobility, and six decades of professional experience have led to a following of patients who come from as far away as Greece to be seen in his office at Scheck & Siress, Hickory Hills, Illinois.
"Retirement is not for me," Denison once told the Chicago Tribune. "My mother lived until she was 100, so I figure I've got a few more good years in me." Though he stays more than current on prosthetic advances, his most famous creation may be a series of wooden peg legs with built-in ashtrays that Bill Veeck, the flamboyant Hall of Fame baseball-team owner, insisted upon. Denison says that Veeck "liked the stability."
Mary Novotny, founder of both the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) and the National Limb Loss Information Center (NLLIC), is another of the approximately 4,000 patients Denison has seen since 1943. Novotny, who had a hip disarticulation amputation at age 12, received her first prosthesis from "Denny" more than forty years ago. In an unpublished essay, she wrote, "The memories I cherish most about Denny revolve around his constant encouragement to try anything I wanted--even when I broke the prosthesis.... In my opinion, that sums up Denny--all the expertise he possesses, all the caring he shows patients, and all the details he attends to without fail. Denny will always be a prince in my book. Many achievements in my life are due to Denny's can do, supportive attitude, and I don't know what I would ever do without him."
1. What is your personal and professional background?
I was born in Estonia in December 1923, and came to America through Ellis Island on January 20, 1938. My last name was Perkovsky in Estonia, but the aunt and uncle who sponsored us to come here gave us the name Denison because it sounded more "American." I started school here and was learning English, but before I could graduate from high school, I was drafted. That was January 1943.
2. How did you become interested in/involved with O&P?
World War II drafted me and assigned me to the Army Medical Corps. I took basic training at Fort Robinson, in Little Rock, Arkansas. Then I went to orthopedic training for six months in New Orleans. From the end of 1945 until May of 1946, I was at Walter Reed. There were too many orthotists there, so I was switched to prosthetics. My job was to update soldiers prostheses prior to their discharge. After the war, I was one of the first licensed and certified practioners in Illinois. My state license is number 027, and my certification, from 1948, is number 23.
3. How do you set yourself apart from competing businesses and practitioners in your area?
Having about 65 years of experience and continuing education means that Im capable of fabricating wooden prostheses that some older wearers still want, but I also handle microprocessor knees.
4. How has your career progressed?
I've been president of AOPA [American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association] Region 6 and of the AAOP [American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists] Midwest Chapter, and I owned my own business from 1958 to 1992. I came to work at Scheck & Siress in 1987, and I'm still working. I volunteer at Shriners Hospital for Children of Chicago. In 1998, I was awarded the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists National Clinical Commitment Award.
5. What advice would you give to someone just entering the O&P profession or starting his or her own business?
Learn patient management. Go to continuing education meetings. Start from the bottom, being an assistant to an experienced certifee.