Minnesota’s only prosthetic-maker of color has mastered many skills

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Hana Hassan grew up around an uncle who lost a leg in the Somali Civil War. It helps her understand and communicate with patients frustrated by worn-out or ill-fitting limbs.

In 1977, as war raged between Ethiopia and Somalia, Abdi Muhumed was a young teen trying to cross the border back into Somalia. He stepped on a landmine.

His injuries from the blast required amputation of his left leg below the knee. Two years later, Abdi got a prosthetic leg. He’s been wearing one ever since.

But since then, he’s dealt with pain and discomfort from the many prosthetic legs he’s used, a problem he attributes to difficulty communicating with his providers. Abdi speaks limited English, and none of his previous providers spoke Somali.

His current prosthetic leg is four years old. The padding inside is falling out of place, making it wobbly when Abdi walks on it. He’s ready to get a new one.

“I know exactly what I want,” Abdi, 58, said. “I just want someone to understand what I want, and to work with me.”

He’s hoping he found that with Hana Hassan, who he’s been seeing for the last three months.  Hana has been working to fill the gap for patients like Abdi for more than a decade. She is the only orthotic and prosthetic practitioner of color in Minnesota, and she’s hoping that her latest move to start her own private practice gives her efforts a boost.

Abdi is waiting to see what his insurance will process, but he’s hoping for a higher quality leg that will last 10 years—the same kind that veterans get at the VA hospital, he said.

Hana is used to hearing stories like these from her patients. She chalks this up to one primary reason. “You have to communicate well with your practitioner, and the practitioner is supposed to be willing to listen to the patient’s needs and wants,” Hana said.

After years of planning and working in the industry for more than a decade, Hana recently opened Ever-Care Orthotics & Prosthetics. Besides being the clinic’s founder, she is one of four providers on hand who are currently taking care of roughly two dozen prosthetic patients.

Located on the third floor of an office building near the busy Richfield roundabout at the intersection of Lyndale Avenue and East 66th Street, the clinic draws attention with its bright turquoise walls in the lobby.

Four main rooms are tucked behind the lobby. These include an orthotic room, where Hana and the three other providers apply casts to patients to make measurements for prosthetic limbs; a small gym, where patients work on their physical rehab; a room for prosthetic patients to get checked and evaluated; and a lab where Hana and her staffers make and mold customized prosthetic limbs.

In the patient room, Hana often hears from patients who need new prosthetic limbs because their current ones have become old or uncomfortable. If a patient’s current prosthetic limb is painful, Hana needs to hear exactly how the pain is occuring in order to properly design a new limb.

“Is the pain pushing, pulling, or shooting straight up?” she often asks.

This is one area where communication between the patient and provider is key. Hana will use this information to make prosthetic limbs that hopefully don’t cause pain.

Inside the lab room are two machines that Hana and her colleagues use to shape prosthetic limbs, as well as a giant square metal oven they use to mold plastic. She follows a typical process to design prosthetic limbs. If a patient is missing a leg from below the knee, Hana will cast the knee to get the proper measurements. Then she’ll use these dimensions to mold and design the leg, while ordering parts like the metal foot that goes in the leg from a third-party supplier.

Hana’s own family experiences motivated her to pursue working in this field. Her uncle lost one of his legs in the Somali Civil War, and as a kid, she witnessed him adapt to crutches.

“I watched him struggle walking,” Hana said. “I worried about him falling, and worried about what was going to happen to him.”

After she moved to the U.S. years later, Hana remembers watching an injured Iraq war veteran on TV regain his ability to walk after getting prosthetic legs. What hit close to home for Hana was how the man, like her, had two young daughters, and how his prosthetic legs allowed him to once again pick them up and embrace them.

From then, she knew she wanted to pursue this as a career.

“I want to help people who are unable to take care of themselves,” Hana said. “I want to change peoples’ lives.”

When Hana told her husband, Isaac Muhammad, that she wanted to study orthotics and prosthetics, the news first perplexed him.

“I had no idea what it was,” Isaac said. “I thought, ‘OK—how are you going to cater to it and get a job?”

He wasn’t alone in his initial apprehension over Hana’s desired career path.

“A lot of my friends and family members said, ‘Why don’t you just be a doctor and get your medical degree?’” Hana said. “And I said, ‘No. I want to do this.’”

The job demands commitment for the long haul. A bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a one- to two-year residency are all required. The process took Hana, who studied in a specialty orthotics and prosthetics program at Century College and then Concordia University, St. Paul, nearly a decade to complete.

Opening her own clinic has been another lengthy process, which she started in 2019. During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hana did not see patients and worked exclusively on building the clinic office. Now, in her early days of operating the clinic, one challenge is getting enough insurance plans to accept her practice.

So far, Ever-Care is accepted by Humana and Medicaid and Medicare programs, and potential contracts are pending with HealthPartners, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and UCare, Hana said. She has been unable to come to agreements so far with UnitedHealth and Medica.

This has left some patients in limbo. Abdirahman Warsame, 46, is waiting for his insurance to go through so he can be fitted for a prosthetic leg. In 2007, he was shot in his left leg, which was  amputated from the hip down. Since then he’s mostly relied on crutches to get around.

Prosthetic legs didn’t work well for him in the past, partly because his injury was so close to the hip.

“It doesn’t have any strength,” he said. “All the material they gave me was really bulky and heavy to carry. I’m hoping to find something lighter and more comfortable.”

Already, he said he can communicate with Hana better than previous patients. “I’m confident that she’s the person for it,” Abdirahman said. “She understands me, she has experience with this situation. She knows exactly what I want.”

Once Abdirahman gets his leg, he’s hoping to fulfill another goal: working as a commercial driver.

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