Shawnee Mission Faces: Shannon O’Shea, pediatric orthotist/prosthetist and marathon runner

An artist with a biology background, Shannon O’Shea puts her dual skills in creativity and medicine to work as a certified orthotist and prosthetist. In short, she creates braces for patients, mostly children, to help them recover from illness and injury.

O’Shea works for Hanger Clinic, a nationwide company named after James Edward Hanger, reportedly the first amputee of the American Civil War. O’Shea works in the Ability KC location in Kansas City, Missouri. Much of her work is collaborative with Children’s Mercy, including physical and occupational therapists on solutions for patients.

She grew up on a family farm near Blaine, Kansas, and had intended to pursue art school at Fort Hays State University. She later switched degrees and earned her undergrad in cellular and molecular biology. But she was still looking for a creative outlet, so she found orthotics and prosthetics.

O’Shea earned her post-graduate certification in orthotics from a school affiliated with the University of Hartford in Newington, Connecticut. She lives in Roeland Park with her spouse, Clint Stueve. They’re expecting their first child in September. 

She enjoys running marathons (she has completed 13 half and two full so far), visiting local restaurants and, before her pregnancy, local craft breweries, especially Sandhills Brewing Company in downtown Mission. She also supports BoysGrow, a local nonprofit helping teenage boys earn soft skills in entrepreneurship, farming, business and culinary arts.

Many people can’t say that they actually love their jobs. And I can truly say I love my career.

As an orthotist/prosthetist, I get to fulfill needs for a patient. And unfortunately, most of these patients aren’t happy to ever have to see us. You don’t know about orthotics and prosthetics until you’re put in a situation where you need to be within our clinics.

So for me, the reason why I love what I do is because, regardless of how a patient might come in, I can most likely make their experience so much better and fulfill something that might have been lost or an unfortunate event in their life where they’re not doing what they were able to do once.

Or from a pediatric standpoint, a child is not walking at the timeframe where they should be. Well, our devices could help assist with that so that they can learn and train and work with their therapist and their parents at home to then become fully functioning. And that would be the goal.

But sometimes I see patients for their entire lifetime. So you get to see them grow in front of your eyes, which is fantastic, and get to know those families. So, unlike some physicians where they might see them as a specialty clinic visit, they may only see them once, I get to see them multiple times and throughout, potentially, their lifetime, which is just a fantastic experience for both not only myself but for, hopefully, the patients that are coming into our office.

And then lastly, I feel like being able to collaborate with referring physicians and being able to be a part of the medical community is absolutely something that I strive for and I just really enjoy, especially being in the facilities that I am. I have close connections with those referring physicians, which is fantastic.

One of my patients’ success stories, it’s a wonderful story of an 18-year-old, she unfortunately suffered a spinal cord injury, and she became a paraplegic, meaning losing the use of her leg muscles.

And she was an elite athlete as well. She went from being a star athlete to unfortunately not being able to walk any longer. But her goal was to walk across the stage at graduation, so she came to a few of our offices for her bracing needs and ended up with me at one point where I made her a set of braces for both of her legs so that she could stand and walk across the stage at graduation.

She got to use the braces that I made for her and walked across the stage, which was her goal, and she accomplished it, and she’s just a total amazing woman at this point, and she continues to see us ‘cause she still needs our services for her bracing.

She was put in a situation where, unfortunately, this was detrimental to her life story. But just by having an incredible attitude, striving for goals, I can be a part of her success in a small way, so it’s just an incredible feeling of joy and accomplishment in these amazing patient outcomes that you get to be a part of.

From an infant perspective, I see babies that are diagnosed with a condition called craniosynostosis. What that means is that one of the sutures, which is supposed to be open at birth, of the skull, is prematurely fused. What happens is a resulting head shape that unfortunately isn’t ideal.

One of the surgical approaches involves removing that suture that’s fused prematurely, and then they go into a helmet afterwards, and that’s called a cranial remolding orthosis.

The helmet is custom-made to them because every head shape is different that lives underneath the helmet. And after the suture is released, they go into a helmet I made for them, and they mold into the correct shape. So then visually, all of their appearances that happened before surgery are completely corrected, and you would never even know they went through this major skull surgery before they’re 4 months old.

Another one that I will probably never be involved with a case like this ever again: I had a patient that unfortunately was in the Joplin tornado (in 2011). This patient was torn out of a vehicle in the tornado, and so he was airborne for a period of time and then landed many feet from his vehicle. He was a teenager.

And so unfortunately, when he came out of the vehicle, his chest ripped off, down to, essentially, his heart cavity, so by the time that I got to see him, they were grafting his skin back over his chest wall, but he had no ribs encompassing his vital organs.

So I was asked to essentially make him ribs, and so I was asked to make him a brace, consider it as catcher’s gear like in softball or baseball, I made him a protective vest that was custom to him to essentially make sure that his heart and lungs were protected, which is just so cool.

And I will never see that, probably ever again, but because of the creative nature of what I do, a physician will come to us, hey can you make something like this, and they just kind of throw out ideas, and I’m like sure, yeah, no problem. What are you wanting? What’s the goals of the device and how can we accomplish it based on what we know from our education? And then we custom fabricate it for them.

So he was able to utilize my device until the skin was well healed and protected and he was obviously old enough to know what activities he could do and couldn’t do, and able to live the rest of his life perfectly fine.

Regardless of why you’re here, our goal is to make, hopefully, your life that much better. Our patient care centers, whether they’re treating adults or pediatrics, or anyone in between, we are here for the benefit of you. You may not want to be here in our office, but our positivity, our creative nature, we’re going to come up with a solution to, again, make your life better.