Too many of podiatrist Jason Hanft’s patients had diabetic foot wounds that wouldn’t heal. Despite having a national reputation for excellence in the profession, Hanft was frustrated that so many people in his care limped along in pain until amputation surgery became unavoidable. He knew many of these patients could get better outcomes if they’d simply wear the medical boots he prescribed them. Why weren’t they wearing them?

Taking a scientific approach, Hanft polled thousands of patients in search of an answer. The results were pretty simple: People hated the damn boots because, first, they were hard to put on and take off; and second, they were so ugly that nobody wanted to wear them in public.

Armed with that knowledge, Hanft created a new boot called Foot Defender, which aims to combine the medical benefits of a standard boot with the comfort and aesthetic appeal of an athletic shoe. He conceived it in collaboration with Michael DiTullo, an industrial designer whose clients have included Nike, Converse, and Brooks.

Their goal from the outset was to create a product with a liberating vibe, rather than one that felt like a prison for an already-beleaguered limb. As DiTullo told Core77, they wanted to make “a protective boot that performs better, is easier to put on properly, and is something a person would actually want to wear.”

“We need[ed] to create a device that’s easy to use and patients want to use in their daily activities of living, which is what we feel has been missing in the care of these wounds,” Hanft added in an interview with Fast Company.

Reasonably priced at $250, Foot Defender uses velcro straps to make for easy donning and doffing. It’s engineered with a dropped heel that shifts weight off the ball of the foot, with a molded shell that locks the ankle and prevents your center of gravity from getting too far forward. The sole includes a gelatinous layer that’s more resilient than standard foam, less prone to compression over time, and—most important of all—more comfortable for the wearer. There’s even a pump inside Foot Defender (similar to the feature that put Reebok on the NBA’s radar a generation ago) that lets you microadjust the fit.

Ever the scientist, Hanft insisted on testing dozens of prototypes to optimize the clinical benefits. According to his data (which you can sample at the company’s website), Foot Defender reduces pressure on the soles by 50 percent compared to other medical boots. More significantly, it achieved vastly better outcomes in beta testing than standard diabetic boots. About 80 percent of foot wounds healed in six weeks among patients wearing the Foot Defender, more than four times better than the US average.

If you extrapolate those numbers, the nation would see an annual reduction of 80,000 amputations a year if every patient switched to Foot Defender. Data literacy alert: That’s not a peer-reviewed study, and the results haven’t been replicated independently, so we’re not taking the 80,000 figure at face value. But Hanft’s product won raves at this spring’s Symposium on Advanced Wound Care in Phoenix last month. Adam Landsman, a professor of podiatric medicine at Harvard Medical School, refers to Foot Defender as “a major breakthrough” that’s “dramatically different from other boots on the market.”

Asked why the product stands out, Landsman offers a succinct answer: “Patients pretty much hate the other boots that we have available to them.”

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