Impact of Ideas

How a TED Talk is helping deliver $80 prosthetic knees to those who need them

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May
Krista Donaldson of D-Rev speaks at TEDWomen about the need for a cheap and functional prosthetic knee. Photo: Marla Aufmuth

Krista Donaldson of D-Rev speaks at TEDWomen about the need for a cheap and functional prosthetic knee that amputees will want to wear. Photo: Marla Aufmuth

“How do you ensure technology reaches users?” Krista Donaldson asks in her TED Talk. “How do you put it in their hands?”

Krista Donaldson: The $80 prosthetic knee that's changing lives Krista Donaldson: The $80 prosthetic knee that's changing lives Donaldson is the CEO of D-Rev, which creates medical devices for people around the world who make less than $4 a day. She spoke at TEDWomen this past December about the company’s in-development prosthetic knee, which costs $80 but has the functionality of knees that cost thousands. After the talk, she expected to get scattered emails about it. But, she says, “I hadn’t realized the full power of TED.”

As of last week, D-Rev has received 120 enquiries about the knee, called ReMotion, that mention Donaldson’s TED Talk — either from people in need of the knee themselves, or offering to distribute it to those who need it. For example, requests have come in from amputees in Algeria, India, Uruguay and Pakistan; from distributors in Egypt, The Philippines and Mexico who are interested in selling the knee; and from prosthetic clinics in Bosnia, Cambodia and Tanzania interested in fitting people for ReMotion once it becomes available. The knee is expected to begin shipping in the fall.

For amputees — and friends and family members — who write in, D-Rev plans to keep them updated via email. Donaldson says, “We have all of their information, and we’re actually going to be sending out the first note pretty soon. It’s basically — this is the timeline we’re on, this is how you can get more information, here’s some resources in the meantime.” These emails will be targeted by location, so that a person gets accurate info on when ReMotion will be shipped to their area.

But it’s about more than the product. In this in-between stage, D-Rev sees its mission as connecting people who write them with clinics, where they can receive care now and where they can eventually be fitted for ReMotion.

“There was a request that came in recently from an amputee in Kenya, and he was not well-connected with the clinics in that country. We’re able to connect him with a clinic,” Donaldson says. “One of the challenges that we see with amputees, particularly ones who are low-income and living in low-income areas, is that they actually don’t know what services are around them, because it’s expensive. If you don’t have someone that tells you, you may not know that there’s a clinic that’s just a few hours away.”

D-Rev is also working on connecting prosthetics clinics so they can learn from each other. “[Fitting the knee] is not something you can just do yourself — you have to go to a certain type of prosthetics clinic that has the skill process to do it. It’s very standard in a lot of industrialized countries, but in lower-income countries, you have to go to one of the higher-trained ones,” says Donaldson. “Clinics are pretty fragmented, but our hypothesis is that we’re going to start seeing clinics and groups of clinics that’ll work together and better communicate. We’re starting to see that happen, and one of the roles we’ve been stepping into, with TED’s help, is facilitating that. Our hopes would be to see, for example, some of our partners in Indonesia send their best prostheticists to work in a school in India, and help those programs develop. To me, that’s much more powerful than all these independent programs all over the world.”

Donaldson is excited that D-Rev has been able to connect with prosthetics training schools, like TATCOT in Tanzania. She also got an email from an administrator at a South African university that had recently added a prosthetics and orthotics group. “He was interested not only in how we could all be involved together, but he wanted to know more about the overlap of engineering and prosthetics and orthotics,” she says. “Which to me is also really exciting, because there’s such a value in different disciplines working together to solve problems. Having local engineers and local students working on some of the problems that they’re dealing with — that’s my hope in how a lot of change will happen.”

For now, D-Rev continues usability testing of ReMotion, and is setting up manufacturing and distribution channels. And this, says Donaldson, is a challenge. “We talked to various couriers and logistics services, and one of them that will go unnamed but is very well-known said, ‘Oh, we deliver to 95% of the world.’ And we were like, ‘Well, we’re actually interested in the other 5% too.’”

Want updates on ReMotion? Head to the D-Rev website »