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Detroit Free Press said:
They feel pretty real.

That's what Sean Halpin was aiming for when the auto industry designer set out to make prosthetic breasts for women who've gone through mastectomies but who didn't -- or couldn't -- have breast reconstruction.

Inspired by the death of his parents from cancer, Halpin used his talents in design and plastic molding to help others with the disease.

He founded Proud Mary Prosthetics a little over a year ago and began selling the silicone prostheses this year in stores in Michigan and a few other states. He hopes to ramp up production and begin hiring more workers soon.

Halpin was already an entrepreneur. He has owned his own auto design business for 15 years, including Halpin Design, which he began in 2001.

Born in Troy, he earned a master's degree in manufacturing at the University of California-Los Angeles and worked in the aerospace industry in the 1980s.

In the early 1990s, he returned to Michigan to help his parents and ended up working on General Motors' newly launched Saturn operations. He eventually founded his own business.

His company -- Halpin Design -- works with suppliers and automakers, helping interpret what the engineers and designers want on a project. His company has also done work for Fisker Automotive and Chrysler. In general terms, his team takes a designer's work -- perhaps through a clay model -- and translates it into technical terms for engineers to build the product.

"I can be at almost any intersection and see someone ... pulling a steering wheel or pushing buttons on an instrument panel that we did," Halpin said.

As the economy began to darken, Halpin felt the company needed to diversify.

He took his design and production skills into sports equipment, including creating an iPod holder for runners -- designed by his 16-year-old son -- that's sold at

"Then cancer came," Halpin said. "I was paralyzed by cancer and tried to realize what I could do to help people with cancer."

His parents -- Mary, 68, and Donald, 72 -- were diagnosed with cancer; they died within 90 days of each other in 2007.

After his mother was diagnosed, Halpin said he began evaluating his skills and experience and asking how he could help people with cancer.

He turned to friend Tracy Bush, a design engineer who had worked at Ford for more than 20 years and was thinking about beginning a new career.

Along the way, a woman walked into his design studio one day looking for help. She wanted a custom-made prosthetic to fit in her bra after a mastectomy.

"We thought, well shoot, we can scan people rather quickly. ... We know how to make symmetrical opposite parts. Women needed this," Bush said.

Halpin and Bush set out to make prosthetic breasts, eventually finding a Hollywood artist to help them create a silicone device that feels and looks realistic.

"We started looking at how do we design a breast prosthesis that's better than what's on the market," Bush said.

They decided to take the business down two routes: making custom prostheses, which they began selling in March, and launched this fall a mass-market line called Air Hugs, a ready-to-wear silicone prosthesis sold in different sizes at various stores.

The custom-fit prostheses retail for $3,500 and Air Hugs sell for $310 to $350. The custom prostheses are covered by many insurance policies and Air Hugs are covered by all, Halpin said.

"The nice thing about these is that you can wear them with any bra," Bush said. "It gives women ... more options." Competitors' products, they noted, must be used in a special bra with a pocket that holds what essentially feels like a bag of silicone.

The custom-made prostheses are made after taking scans of the woman's chest.

"It's really exciting to see the smiles and happy faces when people find out about this product," Halpin said. "They're excited when they leave here with their new breasts."
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