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Replacing limitations with empowerment

For Miss Tabitha Quake, 29, prosthetics and orthotics (P&O) is more than an intellectual pursuit that utilises her technical interests and skills. It enables the senior prosthetist and orthotist with Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s (TTSH) Foot Care & Limb Design Centre to “help people with physical disabilities live better lives”.

Prosthetists and orthotists treat physical limitations resulting from illness and disabilities. They design, fabricate and fit custom-made artificial limbs,  braces and other external contraptions.

In 2008, Miss Quake secured a health sciences scholarship from the Ministry of Health Holdings (MOHH) to do a Bachelor of Science (Honours)  degree in P&O at Scotland’s University of Strathclyde.

The scholarship covered all her tuition fees during her four years of undergraduate study which she could not have afforded otherwise.

Clinical placements within the United Kingdom for hands-on experiences and exposure to cases not studied at Strathclyde meant Miss Quake never stayed in the same place for more than a year at a time.

“There were also two sought-after overseas placements per cycle,” she says.

“I was fortunate to be assigned to Sweden’s Skandinaviska Ortopedtekniska Laboratoriet, where I worked with different prosthetic systems using high-end components such as carbon fibre feet and bionic knees.”

Miss Quake did her second-year mid-term attachment at TTSH, the largest public provider of P&O services in Singapore. The attachment eased her into Singapore’s healthcare system and helped her understand the unique needs of the patients here.

After graduating in 2012, she joined the centre full-time, where her skills, design-technology interests and outside-the-box thinking are welcomed.  She casts, fits and modifies customised artificial limbs and braces with the help of technicians.

“Adapting the techniques while managing expectations can be demanding, especially in Asian healthcare, where there is a greater disability stigma,”  she says.

Orthotics can be quite complex. An early case in her career saw her and a senior colleague in an operating theatre to cast a mould on a scoliosis patient for a spinal brace immediately after surgery.

“It was my biggest cast-and-brace case, but not the last. After handling hip disarticulation and more scoliosis cases, custom spinal braces became my sub-speciality,” says Miss Quake.

From 2014 to 2016, she also ran a weekly paediatric clinic at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), where she mainly did spinal bracing. She is currently helping KKH set up its own P&O service centre, and has been supervising and guiding a P&O scholar working there, to ensure everything runs smoothly.