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19th October 2017

Dancing with medtech

When Mel Reis lost part of her leg, the Brazilian ballerina saw it as a perfect opportunity to get back ‘en pointe’.

Ever since her left leg was crushed in a road accident as a teenager, Mel had continued to stay active through sheer determination but was forced to hang up her beloved pointe shoes. Despite numerous surgeries over the 13 years that followed, doctors were unable to save the limb and they decided to amputate the lower part in 2014.

Rather than giving up, Mel viewed this development as a fortuitous turn of events. “Amputation of a limb is not a synonym of death, but rather the restoration of a body,” she says in a video about her experience. In an interview with This Is Medtech, she explains that “the idea to create a prosthetic pointe foot was mine after I searched for something similar but couldn’t find anything out there.”

This led her to Dr José André Carvalho, the director of the Campinas Institute of Prosthesis and Orthosis in São Paulo, who agreed to design her one-of-a-kind dream prosthesis. “When he said that he would be able to create a foot in the way that I described, my heart was filled with joy and I was so touched that I cried with happiness and gratitude,” recalls Mel. She refused to listen to naysayers who believed it would never be possible. “For me it would be my miracle accomplished through medtech,” she comments.

The doctor acknowledged that it was quite a technological challenge to build a prosthesis that was only 2cm wide at the tip, but would still support Mel’s weight and allow her to dance freely. She couldn’t have been happier with the result. “My proudest moment was when I got en pointe after years, and in such a surprising way,” she says. “The technology was totally responsible for this. Otherwise it would have been impossible to have a foot that had never been seen before and was made exclusively for ballet.”

These days, in addition to working on her own balance and alignment, Mel is inspiring and supporting others with disabilities that have resulted from physical trauma. She is the founder of the Institute of Inclusive Arts Mel Reis (IAI Mel Reis) which helps people rehabilitate themselves through the arts, transforming their lives in the process.

Mel is one of three artists with an unbreakable spirit who will perform at Art of Life, an evening reception organised by MedTech Europe in partnership with EU40, to be held at the European Parliament on 22 November 2017.