Every year around 185,000 United States citizens suffer limb loss due to traumatic accidents, wartime injuries, and sickness like vascular disease and diabetes. There are currently close to two million amputees in the U.S. alone, and many of them are still coming to terms with the physically and emotionally difficult change.
Adjusting to wearing a prosthesis can be particularly challenging. It generally takes years, if not decades, for amputees to get used to using these devices on a daily basis, and even when they do, many choose to cover their prosthetic arms or legs to avoid being singled out. This issue inspired Dan Horkey to start Prosthetic Ink, a company that produces tattooed prostheses. Over the last nine years, he’s helped hundreds of amputees regain their confidence.
Horkey came up with the idea after a motorcycle accident claimed the lower portion of one of his legs. “I covered up my leg for 20 years, and then one day, I decided that I was going to wear it more openly, so I put flames on it. Now I don’t get stares; I get compliments,” Horkey explains. “Just like getting a tattoo, it’s about self-esteem. When that first compliment came from a stranger, it bolstered me up right away. My shoulders went straight back, and I walked tall and proud.”
Prosthetic Ink has already produced a number of tattoo-inspired pieces, and Horkey wants to collaborate with more tattooists in the future, licensing their flash so that they receive commissions when his clients select their designs.
“Ever since I opened my business back in 2008, I’ve wanted to work with tattooers,” says Horkey. “I think of painted prosthetics being like tattoos, replacing [a tattoo] that a soldier's lost or ones that were cut off after accidents.”
Today, Horkey’s company offers a wide range of customized pieces, ranging from solid color and chrome paint jobs to painted illustrative designs. Horkey has also been experimenting with screen printing to make his services more accessible and affordable. The testimonies of the people who wear these tricked out prosthetics are incredibly uplifting. Although Prosthetic Ink has done all sorts of good, there have been some stumbling blocks along the way.
“In 2009, the VA [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] started paying me to help soldiers by painting their prosthetics, but three years later, the director told me that it wasn't in the handbook of what they need to provide veterans, that they didn’t know if it helps improve mental health or quality of life.” Regrettably, this is making it so that veterans who are not financially well off can’t access Prosthetic Ink’s services.
One would think that the inspirational stories that Horkey and his clients tell about their prostheses would be enough, but the VA insists on scientific, empirical data that proves his products improve the wellbeing of amputees before they will provide him with additional funding. Horkey is preparing a Research Clinical Study Proposal on the basis of benefiting the mental health and well-being of our severely injured Veterans. Once the proposal is completed, his Congressmen will help seek funding by the VA.
His business has taken a hit due to the VA’s unwillingness to subsidize the cost of painting prosthetics for veterans, but Horkey and the rest of the team at Prosthetic Ink don’t plan on giving up anytime soon. They believe in what they’re doing, and their clients are all walking with their heads held high.
To help Horkey improve the lives of more amputees, please donate to the cause on his website. Should you be a professional in the medical field and concerned with the experience of veterans, please reach out to Horkey, especially if you have any data or research relating to how cosmetics can help the disabled live more fulfilling lives. If you’re a tattooist and want to contribute designs, get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org