Anthony Staros, MS
Born: July 17, 1923 - Freeport, NY
Entry into the AT field: 1950
How I got into the field
I first started in "Assistive Technology" in 1950 by working with Eugene Murphy at the U.S. Veterans Administration in New York. The emphasis at the time was on World War II and Korean War wounded veterans, mainly amputees. Since Gene was polio affected, he and I, both engineers, conducted assessments of the existing orthotics hardware and processes then available for providing orthoses. We also assessed biomechanics associated with fitting people with orthopedic disabilities.
Working with Gene Murphy, I rapidly learned the essence of the roles of assistance technology in the areas of mobility and sensory deficits. I was completely enamored by the field after my earlier post-World-War II assignment in munitions and aircraft technology. I was quite content to swing away from my warfare capacities to the peaceful accommodations of research and development to confront the disabilities from war as well as accidents and disease. I had degrees from Cornell University and Stanford University, a significant preparation for the challenges at the Department of Veteran Affairs. There were others present in my professional development: My peers, as well as my mentors, from the National program established by the National Academy of Sciences; People at New York University, Northwestern University, The University of California (Berkeley and Los Angeles), the medical people in the Department of Veteran Affairs and the consultants in orthopedic surgery. I not only taught many of these people, I learned from everyone. I was particularly proud of my connections with Canadian colleagues whom I came to truly respect.
Important event(s) that influenced my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
I didn't "get into" the assistive technology field; it grew up around me and I hung on to grow with it. A major happening took place in 1979 after Dr. James Garrett of NIDRR took a bunch of the early "rehabilitation engineers" from the newly structured laboratories which he had funded (and a few like me from government laboratories) and verbally lashed out at us to get our act together, to not only produce accomplishments but to display them, to help him raise money from Congress. Joseph Traub was Jim's associate and he pulled on A.B. Wilson and me to help him. We organized two successive national (annual) conferences, one in Washington D.C. and the 2nd, in Atlanta, Georgia. Both were successes. From these, with oversight by a special group (of Colin McLaurin, A.B. Wilson, Doug Hobson, Jim Reswick, Joe Traub, and me), we were able to establish RESNA with some great assistance from an existing organization already established in assistive technology and with the help of many Canadian engineers and other clinical personnel. The Assistive Technology "International Consolidation" had taken place!
Why I chose the AT field
A new field had been established, and I was proud to be a small part of it. This to me was a key success within my career. I had the same satisfaction in helping to establish the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics in 1970, also an "assistive technology" entity. Both were new fields; both were now "organized."
My inspiration and mentor
A. B. Wilson and Gene Murphy were my key mentors in prosthetics-orthotics. The entire RESNA founding membership of that time were my inspirations. Wilson and Murphy were the lead players in helping me to shape my career and my contributions, almost on a daily basis. Jim Reswick was always there on assistive technology in general. But the talented technical people working in our "VA Prosthetics Center" were my pillars of support: Carl Mason, Vern Huston, Ron Arroyo, Saleem Sheredos, and Jerry Weisman.
Why the field is important to me and the central focus of my work
The central focus of my work changed significantly as a result of the Viet Nam War. Up until the peak of that war, we at USVA were mainly concerned with R&D related to casualties of World War II and Korea, mostly amputees. We were soon made aware of the sharply-superior casualty-recovery capability of the helicopter in the Viet Nam War. Rescue was very rapid, saving many lives by prompt treatment especially for SCI wounded. Those rescued were in need of quick medical and surgical interventions. Thus, rehabilitation efforts took on increased urgency to emphasize research and development in assistive technology. Our VA laboratories began new projects in mobility systems (wheelchairs), bedding and seating, upper limb functional orthoses and FES, better orthotics for paraplegics, and technical aids to meet many of the problems in environmental situations for quadriplegic patients. As a result we began having an impact on SCI clinical care alongside the on-going orthotics-prosthetics clinical efforts.
My memorable successes and greatest contributions to the field
The most notable successes were made in prosthetics-orthotics terminology; skills training of clinical personnel and prosthetists and orthotists; medical rehabilitation personnel training; development of new devices and techniques especially for SCI patients; all accomplishments were quite rewarding..
The greatest contributions were in the somewhat painful chores of writing two constitutions, for ISPO and RESNA. Both were needed for establishing the societies.
My most memorable failures
Memorable failures were in not having well-funded research programs in the technologies which could have helped us to ease the problems in; phantom pain in amputees, nerve regeneration in SCI and body sites for environmental control in quadriplegia.
Significant changes and advances in the field since I first entered it
Significant changes in the field have occurred based on computer technology and electronic systems developments. This has fostered ease of access to information, a very basic need in research and development as well as in clinical care. There have also been significant changes and advances in communication and miniaturization of devices in medicine.
On the future of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology
Foreseen is massive expansion of technology in all aspects of life and human development. With rehabilitation technology there will be assistive devices of many sorts and sizes meeting the needs of people with disabilities. The rehabilitation engineer will be the key innovator in broader human applications of technology, based in part on designs for persons with disabilities.
My role within RESNA and what it gave back to me
RESNA was a notable accomplishment within my career 25 years ago. I look now at RESNA with a bit of pride. It was a very significant set of experiences.
On the future of RESNA
I see the future RESNA member taking advantage of physical medicine and technology to develop new ways of making life easier, more satisfying, and more enduring.
My suggestions for those just entering the field
The new entries into the field should be told of all the benefits they will access: first from the mix of technologies, from a global perspective in the problems of people with disabilities and from the satisfying rewards in the achievements they will have in contributing to a broad population of users of technology.