Celebrating 40 Years
The Lawall network of comprehensive prosthetic and orthotic care centers celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2017. Established in Philadelphia in November 1977 by Harry J. Lawall, Sr. & Harry J. Lawall, Jr., the company’s roots go even deeper than 40 years, however.
Harry J. Lawall, Sr.’s father-in-law, Frank J. Malone, experienced early prosthetic science firsthand, when he was run over by a Philadelphia trolley, and lost his leg below the knee. As an amputee, he worked for the local company that made his prosthetic limbs.
Ultimately, he opened a business of his own “Frank J. Malone Prosthetics” and successfully supported hi s family—including his daughter Rosemary, who caught the attention of a young insurance salesman named Harry J. Lawall. After the marriage of Rosemary and Harry J. Lawall, Sr., Frank Malone encouraged his son-in-law to give up his insurance career and come to work in the prosthetic and orthotic business, which was successful enough that an extra pair of hands were certainly needed.
As time went by, Harry and Rosemary’s family grew to include eight boys and one girl. It was at this point that Harry approached his father-in-law about his desire to open his own prosthetic business. With Malone’s blessing, he struck out on his own; and in 1977, in partnership with his oldest son, Harry Jr. (known as ‘Bud’), he opened a prosthetic business of his own, called Harry J. Lawall & Son, Inc.
At the time, Harry Sr.’s second son, Wayne, was 15, and joined his father and brother in the business, helping them by building workbenches, making braces, and performing whatever other chores were necessary.
Wayne recalls that the original small building that housed that first Lawall location at 8026 Frankford Avenue was sandwiched between a ‘state store’ which sold liquor, and a delicatessen with apartments upstairs. Eventually, as their business grew, the Lawalls bought first the state store, then the deli; and in the early 1980s, they added a second floor to the one-story former state store, expanding it by 5,000 or 6,000 square feet to accommodate their busy production area.
That Frankford Avenue location still serves as their home office and headquarters, where patient care and manufacturing are both performed. Lawall fabricates approximately 80% of their patients’ prosthetic and orthotic devices in-house, customizing as few other companies can: their services still include the old-world skills and craftsmanship of shoemakers, and the facilities include a leather room where a variety of leather work is still done for many types of artificial limbs and braces.
Working your way up from the ground level is a notion that runs deep in Lawall tradition. In the orthotic and prosthetic field it serves you well to have a comprehensive understanding of how the devices are made. Other Lawalls contributing to the company’s growth are Bud and Wayne’s brothers David, Chris, Jack, and Fran. Although his family recently lost Bud to cancer, two of his four children, Andrea and Harry III (Bud Jr.), are also involved in the business: Harry III, CPO, runs the Delaware office, while Andrea is a CPO working in an administrative capacity in the Philadelphia office. Wayne’s son Matthew is also a CPO, and his daughter Kelsey is planning her graduation and deciding which O&P school to choose for her post-graduate training. Wayne Lawall’s wife, Alice; Bud Lawall’s wife, Donna; Chris Lawall’s wife, Megan; and Harry J. Lawall III’s wife, Nina, also work for the company, as do two brothers-in-law and additional nephews.
Their reputation and long-term relationship with healthcare industry leaders like MossRehab and Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children have fueled Lawall’s continued success. Their newest office was established a few years ago in response to an invitation from duPont to serve the orthotic and prosthetic population in their second hospital located in central Florida which opened in 2012.
“One reason we have grown over the years is because we have a special relationship with the therapists that we work with.” Wayne explained. “The therapists see our interactions with our patients and they know that we care about our patients. I would say that at least 50 to 60% of all the work we do is repeat work—patients that we have taken care of in the past. They know that we care and they know we’re interested that they’re doing better.”
One advantage of being a relatively large company, Wayne points out, is the fact that the latest technology comes to them. “Because we have more than 30 certified prosthetists-orthotists who are all looking at developing technology, learning and sharing what they learn every day, manufacturers like to bring their new products and techniques to us. That means we can offer our patients the freshest and most innovative solutions.”
And those fresh solutions have come a long way in forty years, he muses. “When we first started in the business, an average above-knee amputee using an artificial limb would be walking with a walker or a cane. Their gait pattern would be very limited, it wouldn’t be symmetrical. Nowadays, with all the new technology and all the computer componentry that we use, an AK (above knee) amputee can ambulate and it’s hard to know that they’re even an amputee. That’s come a long, long way.”
Which of the many changes he has seen has surprised him the most?
“At one time, the best way you could get a mold of the patient was by taking a cast, and now with the new scanning technology, you can get the same fit without touching the patient –and that surprises the heck out of me!”
As the company moves forward Wayne reflects on what has brought it to where they are today. “It’s just a matter of caring and we try to instill that in all of our people. That’s who my father was,” he remembers.
A plaque picturing Harry J. Lawall and Harry J. (Bud) Lawall, Jr. holds a place of honor in the shipping office. The brief inscription beneath Bud’s picture reads, “He cared about others before himself.”
It’s a claim impossible to dispute: During his battle with cancer, Bud returned to the office just four days after the amputation of his hand, in order to care for the patients who needed him.
“That’s the type of person my brother was—and my father was,” Wayne concludes. “Their leadership is what made the rest of us act and be who we are; and that’s what made the company great.”
That legacy continues to guide not just the Lawall family, but the family of Lawall people who serve their patients. “At the end of the day, one of the things that keeps us going is that we’re helping people. I know my brothers and I and all our employees work really hard. If we didn’t know that we were helping people, I don’t think we’d be doing this; I think we’d be doing something else.