Wyoming native Branch Hunsaker has been wearing leg braces since the mid-1990s, when as a teen he was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease — a form of muscular dystrophy. In their youth, Hunsaker and his sister were sponsored by their middle school teacher to travel to Salt Lake City and be evaluated at Shriners Hospitals for Children. They, their younger brother and their father all suffer from the neurological disorder better known as CMT.
At age 16, an orthotist from Shriners took a curious Hunsaker back in the lab and showed him how they make braces and prosthetic limbs. He was “hooked” and knew right then and there that Orthotics was his future choice of career.
After graduating high school and serving an LDS mission, Hunsaker completed his prerequisites at a community college in Wyoming. From there, he headed to Dallas where he was accepted into the competitive Prosthetics-Orthotics Program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Hunsaker’s goal was always to return to Shriners, but after school he realized that he wanted to work with a variety of patients. He completed a residency with Hanger Clinic in Salt Lake City and eventually helped open a satellite office in Provo. Initially working there once a week, the location’s popularity grew and for the past three years the 33-year-old has been managing the place full-time.
Most of his patients are amputees, generally those who suffer from Type 2 Diabetes. He also specializes in cranial remolding orthoses, where he shapes babies’ craniums. In his line of work, he’s made custom braces for all ages, ranging from months-old babies to 90-year-olds.
He also makes braces for himself and his family — something that prompted him to pursue the field as a teen.
As an adult, Hunsaker is busy giving back, something he said he loves to do. This weekend he plans to return to the hospital of his youth for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Walk for Love and summerfest celebration, an annual event held to raise awareness and funds for children with orthopaedic conditions.
“I can’t say enough about Shriners,” he said. “They do so much good. I’m really excited to see some of the kids I’ve helped and some of the kids I knew way back when.”
In less than two weeks, he and his wife Emily, along with a group of Intermountain specialists and students from 2ft Prosthetics, will travel on a medical mission to Tonga. There Hunsaker hopes to fit as many as 12 to 15 people with custom braces and prosthetics collected and donated by 2ft Prosthetics, a group from BYU and UVU dedicated to restoring dignity and self-reliance to amputees in developing countries.
“I love to help people, that’s why I got into doing what I do,” he said. “I feel like I have a unique sense of empathy for the people I see. I’ve been where they are sitting, where they are standing. It helps me to better care for them than I could otherwise.”
Hunsaker and his wife are fundraising for their travel costs. They plan to be in Tonga for two weeks. For more information, visit http://www.gofundme.com/uzhsc8r.