From patient to prosthetic artist: Nicholas Harrier found his calling

Nicholas Harrier has a unique way of turning life's obstacles into opportunities.

When faced with the life-altering decision to undergo leg amputation in his late 20s, Harrier did not let it slow him down. Instead, he saw it as a chance to make a difference.

Nicholas lost his leg in his late 20s after a battle with cancer and infection. After the surgery, he discovefed a passion helping other patients express themselves after an amputation.Little did he know, this change would spark the transformation of his life’s journey, propelling him into a career and hobby he's truly passionate about, while using his own story to inspire and assist others.

Harrier’s journey began in his early teens when he battled cancer, a fight that necessitated knee replacement surgery. By the time he was 27, a debilitating infection developed in that same knee. Unable to successfully clear the infection, the medical team made the difficult decision to amputate his leg to prevent further complications.

During a routine post-operative visit to his surgeon to talk about prosthetic devices, an office staff member offered a life-altering suggestion. She recommended Harrier call her brother, Corey Smith, the President of Oakland Orthopedic Appliances Inc.

The family-run business at 515 Mulholland St. is well known for its dedication to helping patients feel proud of their bodies through the use of custom prosthetics.

For Harrier, making that phone call to Smith set him on a journey from patient to prosthetic artist.

Harrier, who was working as a braille transcriptionist, found joy in pushing the limits of his new prosthetic leg. He shared videos of his progress with Smith. Among these clips were stunts, including jumps down flights of stairs, showcasing Harrier's determination to put his new limb to the test.

A cover Harrier created for Halloween gave trick-or-treaters a big surprise."We developed a friendship just by being in a practitioner-patient relationship," says Harrier. "There was an immediate back and forth between us."

Impressed by Harrier's self-motivation and problem-solving skills, Smith encouraged Harrier to enter the field and work for Oakland Orthopedic Appliances.

“I was kind of in limbo with my other job and then Corey started getting more persistent about getting me into the field,” says Harrier. “Finally, I said ‘All right, let’s do it.’”

In January 2015, five years after his amputation, Harrier made the switch from braille transcriptionist to patient advocate and lab technician for Oakland Orthopedic Appliances.

"I'm a certified prosthetic technician," explains Harrier. "I aid and assist in the fabrication of the prosthetic device."

With a focus on his craft and allowing his creativity to flow, Harrier has carved out a distinctive niche in the world of prosthetics. Primarily focusing on custom covers or jackets that can easily be placed on the prosthetic or taken off, Harrier is armed with an arsenal of materials from both the lab and his own home as he crafts unique designs.

His passion is noticeable in each custom piece he creates, transforming prosthetics from merely functional devices to artistic forms of expression.

'I might have been an artist my whole life, but I never had a canvas. Oakland provided me that canvas,' Harrier says.Over the past seven years, Harrier has dedicated himself to building custom covers.

He began his journey by cold-calling individuals and offering his services for free. Today, Harrier is recognized nationally and internationally for his altruism and creativity. He sends custom covers as far away as the Netherlands. His waiting list is more than two years long.

Harrier’s child-like enthusiasm exudes as he discusses some of his favorite custom pieces.

One memorable request was for a dragon-themed leg, featuring a palette of grays, blacks, and chromes for a young patient.

"He picked everything, and it just went together really well," Harrier recalls.

Another unique commission was a prosthetic leg design inspired by the fusion of Mad Max and Wonder Woman. The client wanted an original blend of both movies and characters to showcase her unique style and personality. Embracing a weathered and dystopian look, Harrier eagerly brought the client's vision to life.

Harrier's inventive nature extends to his own prosthetic leg.

One notable project involved crafting a Halloween-themed leg for himself. He experimented with unconventional materials such as toilet paper, latex, and press-on nails. The result was an illusion of a skinless leg with exposed tendons and ligaments, shocking trick-or-treaters.  

As Harrier indulges in the playful process of creating custom designs, refining his skills and expertise along the way, his professional journey has thrust him into the global spotlight.

Top of FormHarrier has grown substantially as a professional prosthetic artisan and is known globally for his work. Despite receiving offers for positions elsewhere, including as far as Hawaii, Harrier remains steadfast in his commitment to Bay City, which he has called home for a decade.

"I have no interest in working for anybody else in the field," says Harrier. "I might have been an artist my whole life, but I never had a canvas. Oakland provided me that canvas."

To see more of Harrier’s work, check out his Instagram at Prosthetic Guy. For an appointment for a custom design, visit the website at Oakland Orthopedic Appliances or call (989) 893-7544

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Read more articles by Sarah Sexton.

Sarah Sexton moved to Bay City from Dallas, TX in 2005. After graduating from John Glenn High School in 2007, Sarah earned her BA from Michigan State          University in Social Science with a focus on the Black American Freedom Struggle. Sarah traveled extensively throughout her early 20s and eventually made her way back to Bay City in 2018 to be closer to family. Sarah began pursuing her passion for writing in 2020 and has worked with local magazines and online media sources as well as other freelancers. When Sarah is not writing or brushing up on her photography skills, she can be found bopping around Downtown Bay City, enjoying the nightlife and activities the city offers.