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Helping People Move Through Adversity
Kenton Kaufman is the recipient of the 2022 Henry L. Bolley Academic Achievement Award, which honors individuals who have attained noted achievements in the area of education as teachers, researchers, and/or administrators.
Story by Micaela Gerhardt | March 29, 2022
Kenton R. Kaufman, Ph.D., P.E. ’88 helps a vast continuum of individuals — from Olympic athletes to severely wounded service members to children with cerebral palsy — improve their mobility. He serves as the W. Hall Wendel Jr. Musculoskeletal Research Professor, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Professor of Orthopedics, Director of the Motion Analysis Laboratory, and a Consultant in the Departments of Orthopedic Surgery, Physiology, and Biomedical Engineering at Mayo Clinic.
Kenton grew up in Marion, South Dakota, and earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in agricultural engineering from South Dakota State University. He served as a faculty member at NDSU for 10 years, then decided to pursue his Ph.D. in biomechanical engineering at NDSU.
“As a farm boy, I was planning to design tractors, but I learned that I prefer to design humans more than tractors,” Kenton said. “I still use the same engineering principals of design and analysis, it’s just that the structure I’m analyzing is a living, biological structure, not a piece of steel.”
Kenton and a team of engineers, physical therapists, physiologists, and doctors work together to help diagnose patients with musculoskeletal conditions; treat people with limb loss or mobility impairments; optimize athletic performance; and conduct research and develop new technologies to help individuals achieve a better quality of life. They collect objective data by analyzing patients in motion, rather than examining an X-ray, MRI, CT, or ultrasound captured when a patient is at rest.
"I've been fortunate to win a lot of awards, but none of them match the privilege of serving those who serve us."
Through his work, Kenton has had the opportunity to observe the strength of the human spirit. One of his most memorable patients was a wounded veteran who was combat-injured in each of three tours of duty. After his third injury, caused by an improvised explosive device, doctors decided to amputate his leg. He spent 10 years wearing a prosthesis that continued to cause him pain and finally sought additional care with Kenton and his team at Mayo Clinic; they gave him new technology that enabled him to run for the first time since his injury.
“He had always had pain in his leg from the prosthesis rubbing on his residual limb, and the pain reminded him, every night, that he almost lost his life. With this new prosthesis, that pain went away, and when the pain went away, his PTSD subsided. I’ve been fortunate to win a lot of awards, but none of them match the privilege of serving those who serve us,” Kenton said.
Among numerous other accomplishments, Kenton designed the combat boots used by the U.S. Marine Corps and advocated for medical reimbursement that changed the national policy for a microprocessor-controlled prosthesis used by people who have had an above-knee amputation. He is currently leading a national effort to develop a Limb Loss and Preservation Registry to improve prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation efforts. His career reflects the importance of continued research, innovation, and compassion for people.