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Lance Matthews

Location: Mansfield, ON

Award: Innovation Award

Category: Health Care

Year: 2001


Invented a new medical crutch that frees both hands of people who have lower-leg injuries or disabilities. Read the News Release and Media Backgrounder for additional information

News Release

Hands-Free Crutch Offers More Mobility, Greater Safety

Ontario farmer's invention wins prestigious Manning Innovation Award

Calgary, AB - iWALKFree™ is a revolutionary new medical crutch that frees both hands of people who have non-weight bearing lower-leg injuries, surgery or permanent disabilities. Now the inventor of the hands-free crutch, farmer and carpenter Lance Matthews of Mansfield, Ont., has received a prestigious Manning Innovation Award.

Matthews, 45, literally "hit" upon his idea when he slipped on a barn roof and fell to the ground, breaking one of his feet. After enduring a few days on conventional underarm crutches, the former national Enduro motorcycle champion decided there had to be a better way to get around.

"In the 21st century, we've got a space probe going past Jupiter and we can land spacecraft on Mars. What are we doing walking around on something that resembles a branch cut off a tree?" he says.

The iWALKFree™ crutch offers greater mobility and independence for people with a broken foot or ankle, a sprained ankle, surgery or diabetes-related foot problems. The hands-free crutch also eliminates medical complications, such shoulder joint degeneration and carpal tunnel syndrome, that can be caused by conventional crutches.

Matthews has won the Pratt & Whitney Canada $5,000 Manning Innovation Award. The annual awards program has recognized leading Canadian innovators since 1982 with $135,000 in prize money each year. The Manning Innovation Awards Foundation will announce all five of this year's recipients, including the $100,000 Manning Principal Award, throughout September prior to the annual awards gala Oct. 1 in Calgary.

Matthews crafted his first hands-free crutch out of wood and Velcro straps. The device wrapped around his upper leg and included a wooden shelf on which to rest his flexed knee and weight.

"The second I made it and it touched the ground, I was mobile," he says. During his six-week recovery from his broken heel, he was able to go on a planned vacation that included lots of walking.

Ankle sprains and foot fractures are the most common lower-leg injuries in Canada and the U.S.

Doctors at the fracture clinic at Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences in Toronto were so impressed with Matthews' hands-free crutch, they suggested he develop and patent it.

"iWALKFree™ has enormous potential in the management and rehabilitation of traumatic lower extremity injuries," notes Dr. Hans Kreder, trauma and joint replacement surgeon at Sunnybrook.

In a small pilot study on diabetic wound care, underway at St. Peter's Hospital in Hamilton, Ont., a young patient with a foot ulcer, treated for four years, is now healing rapidly on the iWALKFree.™

And Hamilton Tiger Cats quarterback Cody Ledbetter, after being injured last year, said: "iWALKFree™ allowed me to continue with virtually all my regular workouts."

iWALKFree™ crutches - now made of extruded aluminum and engineered plastics - are sold and rented around the world. Matthews, through his company, CANADALEG INC., plans to expand distribution into the European market and, to help land-mine victims, into developing countries.

* For more information about the award-winning iWALKFree™ crutch, please call Lance Matthews at (905)-238-7630 or visit www.iwalk-free.com

* For more information about the Manning Innovation Awards Foundation, please contact Donald Park, Executive Director, at (403)-266-8288 or visit the Foundation's website at www.manningawards.ca

Media Backgrounder

$5,000 Manning Innovation Award: iWALKFree™ Hands-Free Crutch

Lance Matthews knew he was in trouble when he slipped on a loose patch of the barn roof he was fixing. It was late November and he landed hard on the frozen ground, seriously fracturing a heel.

Three days later, the farmer, carpenter and accomplished motorcycle rally rider was awkwardly hopping around in his kitchen, two crutches jammed into his underarms. "I thought, 'What are you doing with these two sticks?'" Matthews recalls.

Crutches haven't evolved much since ancient Egyptians who suffered a broken foot or a sprained ankle hobbled around on them 5,000 years ago, he says. "They're tremendously impractical and uncomfortable and ridiculous."

Matthews headed to his basement workshop where, in less than an hour, he built a radically new kind of crutch. He crafted it out of five rounded pieces, so it would fit around the upper leg of his injured limb. He added a wooden shelf to support his flexed knee.

The idea of having an injured person's flexed knee support the body weight was obvious, he says. "Of the two million people that break their ankle every year, many of them put their knee on a stool while they have a shave, wash their hands, prepare dinner."

He used Velcro straps to keep the crutch fastened to his thigh. "The second I made it and it touched the ground, I was mobile." He spent six weeks recovering from his broken foot, including a planned holiday where he walked around on his crutch in places like the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles and Tijuana, Mexico.

Matthews wore his crutch when he arrived for his checkup at the fracture clinic at Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. The device so impressed the joint specialists and orthopedic technicians, they suggested he refine and patent his invention.

Medical researchers at Sunnybrook have since conducted a clinical evaluation that compared Matthews' hands-free crutch to standard underarm or "axillary" crutches. Studies have shown that regular crutches put tremendous pressure on the shoulder joints and nerves. Prolonged use of underarm crutches can cause carpal tunnel syndrome and shoulder joint degeneration.

In comparison, Matthews' hands-free crutch distributes a person's weight through the flexed knee and frees both hands. The device "mimics the peg leg that was used in the earlier centuries for individuals suffering from leprosy or amputation," Sunnybrook researchers say.

The Sunnybrook study included five male and six female patients, ranging in age from 17 to 45, who used both the underarm crutches and Matthews' hands-free crutch. The researchers reported a "clear trend" for better function with the hands-free crutch, and "the subjects commented on the luxury of having their hands free, particularly during activities of daily living."

Allan Dalton, orthopaedic technologist at Sunnybrook, says the iWALKFree™ crutch "is an incredible idea for improving patients' lifestyle."

Dr. Stephen J. Snyder, orthopaedic surgeon at the Southern California Orthopaedic Institute, calls Matthews' invention a remarkable, innovative, new ambulatory aid. "It seems that it will be a very important design for patients with diabetes and other afflictions to the circulation in the leg as well as post-op patients."

In a small pilot study on diabetic wound care, underway at St. Peter's Hospital in Hamilton, Ont., a young patient with a foot ulcer, treated for four years, is now healing rapidly on the iWALKFree.™

Calgary resident Ian Hetherington, with a broken heel and serious damage to his left wrist and right shoulder, had been confined to a wheelchair or a walker. With the iWALKFree™ crutch, he was able to help his wife around the house with their two small children and even go for walks of up to three kilometres. "I think the leg crutch made an incredible difference in improving my state of mind, by allowing me the freedom to do everyday things," Hetherington says.

Other people who have benefitted from Matthews' innovation include a professional engineer with a severed achilles tendon. While using the hands-free crutch, he was able to mow his lawn and play golf. Seven-year-old Julia Schafrick of Cambridge, Ont. quickly learned how to use the crutch, after Matthews personally modified one of his production units to fit her.

The number of people with non-weight bearing lower-leg injuries "is just absolutely enormous. It's millions and millions of people," Matthews notes.

Every person will experience an average of two broken bones during his or her lifetime, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. More than 2.2 million North Americans see doctors each year to treat new foot and ankle problems. The most common problems are ankle sprains, followed by foot fractures, ankle fractures and foot sprains.

The ankle sprain is the most common injury among athletes. Moreover, foot complications are the main reason for diabetic patients being hospitalized, says the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.

In developing countries, an estimated two- to four million amputees have lost limbs to anti-personnel land mines. Many of these victims are children who can't afford expensive prosthetics. "The range of what this hands-free crutch can do and the amount of suffering that we can fix, alleviate and eliminate is enormous," Matthews says.

The iWALKFree™ crutch is now manufactured from recyclable extruded aluminum and engineered plastics. A quick-buckle fastening system - similar to that used on snowboards - allows the device to be easily switched from one leg to the other.

iWALKFree™ was recently awarded the prestigious "Best New Product" prize at Medtrade, North America's largest medical trade fair.

The current retail price of the medical device is Cdn$349. It can be bought or rented, through Shoppers Home Healthcare Doncaster stores, at more than 40 locations across Canada. CAMP Healthcare Inc. has launched the product in the United States, and discussions are underway with potential European distributors in Spain, Italy, Finland, Holland and Germany. Through sales via the Internet (www.iwalk-free.com), Matthews has received orders from as far away as the Yukon, Japan and Australia.

The first of what Matthews hopes will be many foreign aid applications has started with a field study in El Salvador, done under the auspices of the Central American Landmine Survivors Network. Matthews is creating a foundation to make his crutch available to charitable organizations worldwide.

"I want to have this product where it needs to go," Matthews says. "And it needs to go everywhere in the world . . . we all hurt ourselves."

The Manning Innovation Awards Foundation

Each year, Manning Innovation Awards presents $135,000 in prize money, distributed among four leading Canadian innovators, as well as $20,000 among eight Canada-Wide Science Fair winners. During the past two decades, the Foundation has awarded more than $2.75 million to encourage and recognize Canadian innovators.

Media contacts (photos available):

Lance Matthews


Phone: (905)-238-7630

Email: lancema@netcom.ca

Donald Park, Executive Director

Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

Phone: (403)-645-8288

Website: www.manningawards.ca