Kistenberg Provides Prostheses to People in Need

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A one-time good deed that involved providing a man in Belize with prosthetic legs has evolved into an ongoing — and ever growing — nonprofit effort for Robert Kistenberg.

It all started while Kistenberg, co-director of the Master of Science in Prosthetics and Orthotics (MSPO) program in the School of Applied Physiology, was teaching at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern in Dallas in the 1990s. 

“A friend of mine was doing medical mission work in Belize when she met a man without legs, who had managed to make do with getting around on a skateboard,” he said. “When she asked if I could help, I told her that I couldn’t send him a set of legs, that he’d have to come to the United States and that I couldn’t promise anything. Within three days, she’d raised the money, and Adrian was on his way.” 

Although the fittings were a success, Kistenberg was concerned about how he’d do follow-up visits with the man to ensure that the prostheses were successful, given the distance. 

“I started taking an annual trip to do follow-up with Adrian in 1996, and before I knew it, we had established a permanent clinic — which remains the only prosthetic clinic in Belize,” he said. “The name of the organization in Belize is called Project Hope Belize. The 501(c)(3) organization in the United States is Prosthetic Hope International, an organization that allows us to provide prostheses to people abroad and right here in Atlanta.” 

Recently, The Whistle had a chance to learn more about Kistenberg and his time at Georgia Tech.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

I always liked to take things apart and try to put them back together again. In college, I realized that I wanted to do something related to health care. My sophomore year, I decided to talk to a physical therapist at my university about his field. During our discussion, he told me that I’d be a perfect fit for working with prosthetics and orthotics. As I learned more, I realized that this field offered me a position in the health care industry — that allowed me to “play” in a workshop, too.

How did you arrive at Georgia Tech?

I worked with Chris Hovorka at UT Southwestern in Dallas. When Chris started the MSPO program at Tech in 2002, he asked me to come and work with him. I started in 2003 and have been here ever since. 

How do you make learning engaging for your students?

Throughout their coursework, students are working with patient models to create prostheses. I also take students with me to Belize to work in the clinic. These opportunities to work firsthand with patients are the best way to help students learn the material in an engaging way.

What is one misconception people have about your field?

People think most of our patients are the amputees you see in the Olympics or soldiers who are returning from war, when in reality, they are older — and often diabetic — adults. Folks also tend to confuse the words “prosthetist” and “prostitute,” which can be problematic.  

What is the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without?

Remote desktop access, because it allows me to do work from anywhere in the world. 

Where is your favorite place to have lunch?

If I’m being good, it’s the salad bar in the Student Center. If I’m not being good, it’s Rocky Mountain Pizza.  

What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken — did it pay off? 

In 2010, I had an opportunity to teach a short course in upper limb prosthetics in Tehran, Iran. I was very conflicted about going but went, and it was a phenomenal experience. 

Tell us something about yourself that others might not be aware of.

One of my professors would mold leftover plastic from prostheses into objects, which gave me the idea to start making mushrooms out of the leftovers. I hate waste, and this allows me to recycle what’s not being used. I’ve included the mushrooms and other plastic sculptures in a couple of art shows, but I primarily give them as gifts.



  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Amelia Pavlik
  • Created:11/12/2012
  • Modified By:Fletcher Moore
  • Modified:10/07/2016