Davidsville resident hopes to create shoes for those suffering
(Originally published in the Somerset Daily American on December 16, 2018 by Matthew Toth)
Matthew Leverknight, from Davidsville, wanted to help his sister who has spina bifida, a birth defect where there is an incomplete closing of the back bone and the membranes around the spinal cord.
“The actual bone doesn’t form around the spinal column, so the net effect of that is people with that condition typically are born in a paraplegic state,” he said.
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1,645 babies are born with spina bifida, which makes people have limited use of lower limbs.
“My younger sister has the most severe type, which means she primarily uses a wheelchair,” Leverknight said.
Now Leverknight, who works in the insurance business, has what he calls a “pre-startup operation,” called Free Feet Shoes. This local company will create footwear for special needs individuals requiring foot-ankle orthotics. The goal, according to Leverknight, is to make it possible for anybody with spina bifida to walk as much as possible.
“(My family) said ‘Lets look into shoes to work the way we would like them to work since no one is currently doing that,’” he said.
People with spina bifida wear foot-ankle orthotics, a hard plastic exoskeleton fitting over the feet and lower legs. The orthotics help with walking and bone development.
“The drawback to these is that you’re basically putting a plastic ski boot over the foot,” Leverknight said.
Orthotics are not enclosed, so finding shoes big enough can be a challenge. Leverknight said this is especially true for those people wishing to look for snow boots and dress shoes.
Over the summer, Leverknight took part in the Startup Alleghenies Accelerator Program with his design for a snow boot. Leverknight was awarded a $5,000 seed grant to start working on a prototype.
“But that money has been held in limbo because I simply have not been able to get together my team yet,” he said. “I’m still trying to actively assemble a team of someone that understands the actual process of the shoes.”
Leverknight said there are a couple makers of orthotics shoes, but there is a big gap in the market for children’s snow boots that they can put on themselves.
“It think one parent I talked to threw out 20 minutes as a number it takes for her child to put a boot on,” he said.
Leverknight wants to bring more autonomy and appearance to adaptive footwear.
“So much adaptive footwear that’s out on the market right now is either clunky and fastens with velcro, or it’s not adaptive and you can’t use it on your own, you need someone to help you with it,” he said.
Leverknight said he’s looking for an advisory staff of people who have the disability, along with cobblers and people in manufacturing to help create the first prototypes.
For now, it’s just Leverknight and his family.
Leverknight added he understands this may never be a full time business, but it’s about putting a product out that people need.
“There’s a calling there to actually bring this product to market,” he said. “This is something the world actually needs.”
Those who want to help Leverknight can contact him at email@example.com.