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Student gives prosthesis project a Lightning-themed touch

Adam Kramer customized an artificial leg he constructed for Bolts fan David Caras as part of a class assignment using a Brayden Point T-shirt.
David Caras, 58, of St. Petersburg, gets an adjustment to his transfemoral prosthetic leg from prosthetics instructor Brad Martin on Monday at the International Institute of Orthotics and Prosthetics in Tampa. The socket segment of the project, designed and created by IIOP student Adam Kramer, features an image of Lightning star Brayden Point.
David Caras, 58, of St. Petersburg, gets an adjustment to his transfemoral prosthetic leg from prosthetics instructor Brad Martin on Monday at the International Institute of Orthotics and Prosthetics in Tampa. The socket segment of the project, designed and created by IIOP student Adam Kramer, features an image of Lightning star Brayden Point. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Nov. 16
Updated Nov. 17

TAMPA — Adam Kramer wanted to add one final touch.

He had spent four days gathering measurements, making molds and conforming an above-the-knee prosthetic to fit his model patient, David Caras, 58, of St. Petersburg, a longtime Lightning fan.

It was part of Kramer’s final class assignment at the International Institute of Orthotics and Prosthetics in Tampa, from which he is scheduled to graduate in December.

Kramer, 36, of Clearwater found a blue Brayden Point T-shirt at the school and decided to integrate it into his design for the thigh portion of the artificial leg he was creating.

“We really enjoy the community here, so we really wanted to make something representative of our community,” Kramer said. “Giving (Caras) something that he was going to like and brighten his day, make him smile, was something that was a really good opportunity for me.”

Caras, who had his choice of prosthetics, said Kramer’s was his “favorite design.”

“I mean, come on,” Caras said. “Really. Seriously. I was not expecting this.”

David Caras, left, gets an adjustment to his prosthetic leg from prosthetics instructor Brad Martin Monday at the International Institute of Orthotics and Prosthetics in Tampa. At right is Arlene Gillis, founder and director of the institute.
David Caras, left, gets an adjustment to his prosthetic leg from prosthetics instructor Brad Martin Monday at the International Institute of Orthotics and Prosthetics in Tampa. At right is Arlene Gillis, founder and director of the institute. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Point’s eyes widened Tuesday when he saw a photo of the prosthetic featuring his likeness.

“It’s extremely cool,” he said. “It’s very humbling that someone would put that on their prosthetic. It’s very well done and looks amazing.”

Caras has lived in the Tampa Bay area since he retired following 20 years of service in the Coast Guard in 2004. An accident during a business trip seven years ago changed his life forever.

On Aug. 28, 2014, Caras was training in Layton, Utah, for an Ironman race. It was three weeks before his yearlong deployment overseas and a day before his flight home to Florida, so he figured one last run was the best way to cap off the trip to Hill Air Force Base.

During his run, a woman speeding through the area lost control of her car as she approached a turn. The car jumped the sidewalk and hit Caras, tossing him onto the windshield. As the driver tried to get her car back on the road, Caras was pulled underneath it. He was dragged about 200 yards before a speed bump dislodged him from the undercarriage.

Doctors tried to save Caras’ right leg after he was airlifted to the University of Utah’s medical center, but life-saving measures required them to perform an above-the-knee amputation. Caras also had a traumatic brain injury, broken ribs and a broken pelvis.

“On the (hospital) floor, right down the hallway, was a physical therapy room,” Caras said. “And I was like, ‘Okay, let’s go.’ I’ve been hard-charging ever since.”

Adam Kramer, left, visits with David Caras, right, while working to adjust Caras’ transfemoral prosthetic leg.
Adam Kramer, left, visits with David Caras, right, while working to adjust Caras’ transfemoral prosthetic leg. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
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Doctors wanted Caras to remain in their care at the hospital for four to six months, but he was released in three and returned home.

The first week of March 2015, Caras went to James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa for his first prosthetic fitting. At the end of April, he ran in the St. Anthony’s Triathlon.

“I went from not having a prosthetic to learning to walk on one and actually run on one in about five or six weeks,” he said.

Caras also took an interest in sled hockey, which he discovered during a veterans trip to a U.S. Olympic training site in Park City, Utah, in March 2019.

Caras attends two to three Lightning games every season. He says they haven’t lost when he has been in the stands.

“Even when their record wasn’t great,” he joked, “I’d show up and they’d win.”

Static and dynamic alignment for David Caras’ transfemoral prosthetic leg is assessed by prosthetics instructor Brad Martin, right, using a hockey simulator.
Static and dynamic alignment for David Caras’ transfemoral prosthetic leg is assessed by prosthetics instructor Brad Martin, right, using a hockey simulator. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Kramer, also a Lightning fan, has a sports background, having served as an assistant coach on the bronze-medal-winning wheelchair women’s basketball team at last summer’s Tokyo Paralympics.

Though it took about 30 hours of work to get Caras’ prosthetic completed and Caras got to wear it only about a dozen times, both considered it time well spent.

When Caras — who was fitted with Kramer’s more basic prosthetic than the higher-end one he normally wears for the purposes of Kramer’s assignment — removed his $80,000 one to put on Kramer’s $3,000 one, it was exciting for him to see there wasn’t a big difference in his functionality. Even better, the prosthetic fit perfectly.

“I would put my running blade on this thing and go run,” he said. “I’m not just saying that. It’s that comfortable.”

Adam Kramer, left, works with David Caras, while adjusting one of Caras’ transfemoral prosthetic legs.
Adam Kramer, left, works with David Caras, while adjusting one of Caras’ transfemoral prosthetic legs. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Following his graduation next month, Kramer said he will search for a residency program, hopefully in the Tampa Bay area. Since Caras’ prosthetic was designed specifically with him in mind and wouldn’t fit anyone else, Kramer plans to display it at his future practice, where it will serve as “a great memory.”

He called the experience “insanely gratifying.”

“It’s a well-up-your-eyes kind of happy,” Kramer said. “To believe that you can impact someone’s life so profoundly and have the opportunity with a profession like this to change their world, to allow them greater freedom, is a feeling unlike any other.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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