Robert Edwin Tooms, MD
Born: October 26, 1933 - Dyersburg, TN
Entry into the AT field: 1965
How I got into the field
As an orthopedic surgeon, I spent six months as a Fellow at the Rancho Los Amigos Rehab Hospital in Downey, CA, and was exposed to rehabilitation engineering by Drs. Vernon Nichols, Jacqueline Perry, Alice Garrett, and Royce Suclson, the orthotic staff, plus Jim Allen and Andy Karchak of Rehab Engineering. My in-depth exposure was working with Ronney Snell, CPO, and Doug Hobson, P. Eng, in Memphis.
Important event(s) that influenced my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
Working with Ronney Snell, CPO, and Doug Hobson, P. Eng.
Why I chose the AT field
To bring much needed engineering technology to solving the problems of disabled children. Seating for the severely involved child with cerebral palsy was a great need locally and nationally.
My inspiration and mentor
Ronney Snell, Doug Hobson, and I established the University of Tennessee Rehabilitation Engineering Program and worked together for the duration of the program.
Why the field is important to me and the central focus of my work
The central focus of our Center was developing a system of seating for severely handicapped cerebral palsy children then communication devices and various other assistive devices.
My memorable successes and greatest contributions to the field
Developing concepts of seating techniques for CP involved children, using prefabricated modular systems, and teaching these concepts as an international basis. Use of multidisciplinary approaches to applying rehabilitation engineering care for severely disabled children, particularly seating for CP children and developing externally powered prosthetic systems for limb deficient children.
My most memorable failures
Loss of major local funding source and staff leading to closure of program.
Significant changes and advances in the field since I first entered it
Marked expansion of professionals *(engineers, MDs, therapists) actively involved in both research and clinical application of rehabilitation engineering technology. Informative exchange between engineering professionals and health care professional leading to more widespread rehabilitation engineering solutions for severely handicapped persons.
On the future of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology
Greater use of engineering technology worldwide to solve major problems of the handicapped.
My role within RESNA and what it gave back to me
I was part of the establishment of the RESNA organization and advocate of more training in rehabilitation engineering principles in both engineering and health care professionals.
On the future of RESNA
To continue as the premiere organization for communication and advocacy in rehabilitation engineering.
My suggestions for those just entering the field
A wonderful choice of health care career; unlimited opportunity to enhance the life of handicapped persons and their families.