Unless and until you need one, most people probably don’t think too much about prosthetic devices—either their manufacture, application, or additional services. But it’s something that interests Michael Degnan very much—especially providing more inclusive products, something that is not common in the field.
Degnan is an “emerging technologies specialist,” fine artist, and clinician. His company, Buffalo Center for Anaplastology, provides custom and realistic prostheses and devices for auricular (ear), nasal, orbital/ocular (eye), mid-facial and stoma (voice/throat) applications. Because it’s a medical device manufacturer, BCA was deemed essential in March.
He carried on, with assistance from PathStone Enterprise Center, Inc. (PECI), as well as mentors in his field. Degnan had a relationship with PECI, a small business resource, since 2019, receiving a loan to expand his business, as well as other services and guidance.
Degnan’s mission is to provide a high standard of comprehensive prosthetic care. “When I entered the field of anaplastology years ago, I learned that many prosthetics care providers have a difficult time matching colors for Black and Latino skin tones and eye color. It’s surprisingly common,” he says. “Once PathStone found out our mission, they became an advocate for us.”
“Dionne [Jacques, PECI deputy director] pointed out that we should be talking about this more,” Degnan says. “It is critical that prosthetics patients have accurate color matching that provides dignity. Having a non-accurately matched prostheses is almost worse than not having a prosthesis at all; if patients don’t get an accurate color match, they may tend to self-isolate, avoid others. It can create depression and cognitive decline.”
At Buffalo Center for Anaplastology, Degnan works to match skin & eye colors inclusively.“African American and Latin communities are underserved in just about every way, and that includes health care,” says Adam Tidrow, a business development officer with PathStone. “We traditionally think of ‘health care’ as things like doctor visits or surgery—we don't think of it in terms of prostheses. Michael’s working hard to provide solutions to people with skin tones other than white; that’s a very high level of cultural competence. When Dionne brought it up, he really took it to heart. He wants his clients to get the best function and use out of the device, and to be comfortable with it, to have it suit them and who they are.”
Degnan’s business has two sides: clinical, usually conducted in person, providing care and support, and ensuring that as clinicians he and his staff provide accurate color and anatomical matching and prostheses. Then there is the on-site laboratory, where they custom-make the prostheses. In March, he focused on lab development, manufacturing, and making the products, some of which is done with 3-D printing.
“When the pandemic started, we stopped taking patients for a very short time, until it became clear that we could provide care safely as well as comply with NYS guidelines,” says Degnan. “While trying to figure all this out, one thing that’s been particularly helpful from business side was webinars and regular meetings with PathStone.”
“PathStone went out of their way to see how I was doing, asking how they could help,” he continues. “They did this for all of their clients; their webinars were good for morale—mentoring comes not just from PathStone, but between clients as well. We were all in it together.”
Tidrow watched as Degnan worked through the early days of the new landscape. “Michael was an existing client; as a medical-related business during a pandemic, he knew he would be impacted,” he says. “He still wanted to provide services to those who need them, and to continue his growth. He was actively looking for new clients, new industries. We talked about how growth could look during this economy contraction.” There are not many anaplastologists in the country, and Degnan’s patient area is large, including Buffalo, Syracuse, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh.
Degnan also used the time to act deliberately and focus on “the hundreds of things” small business owners have to do. “We focused on branding, marketing, and strategic development. So we’re kind of ahead of the game now. We clarified and prioritized our goals,” he says. “We took a terrible situation that we couldn’t do a lot about and decided to try and make the most of it.”