Katherine Bomkamp, The Pain Free Socket

Photo by Kristen Basham

The way that Katherine Bomkamp gets recognized around the West Virginia University campus could be misconstrued as a pickup line.

“I get, ‘oh you're the girl with the leg’,” Bomkamp explains. “And my response is ‘yes, I've got two!’”

Bomkamp, 21, is talking about her own invention called The Pain Free Socket. It’s a prosthetic device she designed, patented, and is working to get onto the limbs of amputees suffering from phantom pain.

"For some people it’s a burning, for some it's a cramping, for some it’s an itching sensation,” explained Bomkamp. “So that's really been one of the challenges in treating this pain is that it’s just so highly individualized.”

A military brat, Bomkamp has spent ample time at Walter Reed Medical Center with her father, a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel. She quickly noticed the phantom pain amputees complained of from limbs that were no longer there.

At just 16 years-old, and needing a project for her North Point High School science fair, she proposed the idea of using warmers inside the prosthetic limb to distract the brain from the pain.

The device uses heat in the same way a heating pad is used to treat a sore muscle. It's a technology that seems so simple, you'd think it was already in use. But Katherine says that's where her young age was actually an advantage.

"Being so young when I came up with this, I didn’t have all these preconceived ideas,” noted Bomkamp. “I was just thinking of solving the problem at its most basic, simplest level.”

Medical and science communities took note and the Pain Free Socket put Katherine on the map - earning her international awards and leaving her inbox inundated with emails from amputees all around the world.

“This device will literally have the capability of helping millions of amputees fit into wherever they do and be successful,” said Jerry McCarthy, Veteran Affairs, WVU. “So it's a great breakthrough.”

Bomkamp is now a junior at West Virginia University and trying to raise the money to move the device into clinical trials.

“Finally people are overlooking my age, overlooking my background or my education,” said Bomkamp. “And really seeing that this idea has value.”

For more information about The Pain Free Socket and Katherine BomKamp, visit her website at

PHANTOM PAIN, as defined by the Mayo Clinic is pain that feels like it's coming from a body part that's no longer there. Doctors once believed this post-amputation phenomenon was a psychological problem, but experts now recognize that these real sensations originate in the spinal cord and brain.