Barbara Spohn-Lillo could have been a sculptor, a painter or a Hollywood make-up artist. Instead, she chose to devote her talents to helping normalize life for persons in need of artificial eyes and malformed or absent body parts. Her company, Prosthetic Illusions, is one of only a handful of firms in the U.S. that assist doctors and their patients with custom-designed, life-like, post-surgical eyes, noses, ears and other features that can be applied with adhesive or surgically-implanted fasteners.
So far, Spohn-Lillo has enabled hundreds of people to lead more normal lives – enabling them to feel at ease with their physical differences. “I want my patients to be able to walk into a room, to have others listen to what they say, and to not be distracted by how they appear,” she states with compassion.
The skilled anaplatologist and ocularist initially apprenticed under her father, Walter Spohn, who was director of an anaplastology program at Stanford and previous director of the Anaplastology/Eye Clinic at the San Francisco VA Hospital. She went on to receive a degree as an anaplastologist-occularist in 1980 from a program sponsored jointly by Stanford University Medical Center and the state of California.
But the real story isn’t about medical credentials and backgrounds. Most important to Spohn-Lillo is that those referred to her can re-enter life more at ease about their physical difference – that each person has access to the finest materials and the most accurate and life-like prosthesis possible. In addition, says Spohn, she hopes that the Rocky Mountain medical community and general public understand that such services are available, are generally covered by insurance, and are here, in nearby Denver.
“I’ve heard tragic stories,” she says, “where a woman’s community helped her raise money for a trip to see a Boston anaplastologist. She traveled all that way and was told that her costly prosthesic work would not be covered by insurance. I want to let people know that they can get the help they need at much less cost and closer to home.” Though she spends little time marketing her company, the specialist does hope to extend her reach into the Front Range medical community. “Doctors are most often in a position to refer their patients to me, once they’ve done all they can do,” she adds.
Her clients have included a broad spectrum of cases. One 81-year-old Colorado Springs professor who lost an ear to malignant melanoma, sought Prosthetic Illusions out after years of traveling to a San Antonio VA hospital. “The materials and attention to detail that Barbara uses are the very best available,” he said. “I know her work is good because people never comment on my appearance. In fact, I don’t even think most of my colleagues even know I have a prosthetic ear. Sometimes I don’t take it off for two or three weeks. I almost forget it’s there.”
Other clients have included individuals with congenital defects or those who have suffered from accidents or burns. “One of my clients is a seasoned helicopter pilot and a former vet,” she recalls. “Mike called me through the VA hospital connection as well. He was a race car driver at the time of his accident, suffering burns all over his body. He lost parts of his fingers and ears, and his nose.” After almost eighteen months of reconstructive surgery on his eyelids and sockets, doctors were able to save his eyes. But eventually the surgeons went as far as they could. “I was able to create a nose that can be applied and worn everyday until he is able to undergo nasal reconstruction,” she said.
One of Spohn-Lillo’s newest prosthetic products is a greatly-improved breast prosthetis that was developed by a Georgetown, Kentucky, dentist, Terry Ferguson. His wife had just recovered from a single mastectomy and was facing the prospect of wearing a prosthesis. When he saw the poor quality of what was available, Ferguson turned to his wife and said, “Honey, let’s go home. I can make a better wheel.” Fortunately, Barbara Spohn-Lillo and Ferguson met several months ago and decided to offer the lighter, more natural-looking and wearable breast prosthesis through Prosthetic Illusions. As an aside, Spohn-Lillo says that dentists have been responsible for many of the advances in prosthetics. “After all,” she points out, “they have been designing replacement teeth and dentures for years. They also understand the importance and characteristics of plastic materials.”
Chances are few individuals will ever need the services of Barbara Spohn-Lillo and her company. But for those faced with the painful challenge of rebuilding lives as a result of an appearance-altering injury or a congenital disfigurement, Prosthetic Illusions offers hope and practical solutions. Best of all, it offers the opportunity to get acquainted with one of the quiet heroes of the medical profession.
Barbara-Spohn-Lillo may be contacted by calling Prosthetic Illusions at 303/973-8482.