The Dr. Dolit­tle of Pet Pros­thet­ics

From cats to ele­phants, Der­rick Cam­pana is chang­ing the lives of an­i­mals by spe­cial­iz­ing in a field of his own cre­ation

Modern Cat - - Inspire - By Tracey Tong

F ol­low­ing a de­claw surgery that went hor­ri­bly wrong, Tater, a for­merly happy and in­quis­i­tive cat, was left crip­pled. Her dis­traught owner, who learned a valu­able les­son about why cats should never be de­clawed, reached out to Der­rick Cam­pana, one of the few peo­ple in the world spe­cial­iz­ing in an­i­mal or­thotics and pros­thet­ics. With a pros­thetic af­fixed by Der­rick, Tater's cu­ri­ous and sweet na­ture re­turned. The grate­ful owner, who asked to re­main anony­mous, praised Der­rick's work. “Tater quickly fig­ured out how to use her first de­vice,” she mar­vels. “Der­rick's or­thotics are amaz­ing.”

Der­rick, who holds a Mas­ter’s de­gree in Or­thotics and Pros­thet­ics from North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity, didn’t set out to be an an­i­mal or­tho­tist.

It was his first an­i­mal pa­tient, a choco­late Lab born with a con­gen­i­tal limb ab­nor­mal­ity, that changed his life. He suc­cess­fully cre­ated a pros­thetic limb for the dog and “it opened my eyes to an en­tire field,” he says. “I knew I could do this for more an­i­mals.”

He turned to the In­ter­net but found only one per­son spe­cial­iz­ing in an­i­mal pros­thet­ics. In fact, that line of work didn’t ex­ist and there was no cur­ricu­lum of study to get into the field.

Still, the idea of com­bin­ing two of his main in­ter­ests—help­ing oth­ers and his love of an­i­mals—was too good to pass up.

In short or­der, he founded An­i­mal Ortho Care in Stir­ling, Vir­ginia, and now works with spe­cialty and holis­tic vet­eri­nar­i­ans to cre­ate or­thotics and pros­thet­ics to help an­i­mals with limbs dis­abled through trauma, ill­ness or old age.

At this point in the story, a joke could be in­serted about giv­ing th­ese an­i­mals a new “leash” on life, but in Der­rick’s case, it’s true.

Thanks to his ground break­ing work, or­thotics and pros­thet­ics are on their way to be­com­ing com­mon­place in the an­i­mal world, sav­ing tens of thou­sands of lives and mak­ing the 38-year-old an­i­mal or­tho­tist and pros­thetist one of the world’s few ex­perts in the field.

Since found­ing his com­pany 12 years ago, Der­rick has cre­ated an av­er­age of 1,000 pros­thet­ics a year. He’s treated be­tween 15,000 and 20,000 an­i­mals, in­clud­ing minia­ture horses, bald ea­gles, tur­tles, goats, sheep, deer, lla­mas, and a gazelle. It’s earned him the nick­name of the Dr. Dolit­tle of Pet Pros­thet­ics, some­thing that makes him chuckle. Der­rick has trav­elled to Spain to treat a ram and to Lam­pang, Thai­land to fit two ele­phants who lost their legs in land mine ex­plo­sions while cross­ing the Burmese bor­der. “I took th­ese casts home, made check sock­ets, and sent

them to Thai­land where the Thai pros­thetists fab­ri­cated the rest of the pros­thetic de­vices,” he says. He es­ti­mates that up to five per­cent of his pa­tients are dogs.

One of the big dif­fer­ences be­tween work­ing in hu­man pros­thet­ics ver­sus an­i­mal pros­thet­ics is the ma­te­ri­als. Be­cause there are no in­sur­ance bod­ies dic­tat­ing what ma­te­ri­als must be used on an­i­mals, “I can use the ma­te­ri­als I think will work just right,” Der­rick says.

His ma­te­rial of choice is med­i­cal-grade plas­tics, ideal ma­te­rial for pros­thet­ics and or­thotics be­cause they are durable and can be form fit to the in­di­vid­ual an­i­mal. Its ver­sa­til­ity al­lows Der­rick to cus­tom-build pros­thetic de­vices to meet the unique needs of each an­i­mal un­der his care. Eas­ily mould­able, the pros­thet­ics can be eas­ily re­shaped as an an­i­mal grows—help­ing re­duce costs and thereby mak­ing th­ese life-chang­ing mo­bil­ity de­vices avail­able to more an­i­mal own­ers.

Rec­og­niz­ing this, the Amer­i­can Chem­istry Coun­cil’s Plas­tics Make It Pos­si­ble pro­gram re­cently do­nated $20,000 to the Humane So­ci­ety of the United States’ An­i­mal Res­cue Team, so that the group has funds to help res­cue an­i­mals with more chal­leng­ing dis­abil­i­ties, such as those Der­rick treats.

“It’s re­ally cool that peo­ple are putting money into ad­vanc­ing this field,” Der­rick says. “We’re giv­ing an­i­mals the same treat­ment op­tions as hu­mans.”

To make the pros­thet­ics, he uses cast­ing kits 95 per­cent of the time, but tech­nol­ogy has made his job faster. Us­ing dona­tions raised through a Go Fund Me page, Der­rick pur­chased 3-D print­ers and a scan­ner, which has al­lowed him to serve pa­tients that aren’t able to travel to his Stir­ling clinic. Us­ing in­for­ma­tion from an MRI, Der­rick uses the printer to make a 3-D pos­i­tive mold for a plas­tic pros­the­sis. From the start of the process to the time the an­i­mal gets its pros­the­sis runs just un­der a week. But even with all the ad­vances, the field is still in its in­fancy, says Der­rick. There are still peo­ple to ed­u­cate, and it’s a role he has made his duty to take on. Be­fore an­i­mal pros­thet­ics, many an­i­mals with miss­ing or in­jured limbs were put down. The ones that sur­vived man­aged as well as they could. “I’ve heard peo­ple say, ‘my dog walks fine on three legs,’ but we want them to walk great on four,” he says. A miss­ing limb takes its toll on the rest of the body, and peo­ple don’t re­al­ize that af­fected an­i­mals die an av­er­age of two years ear­lier. “You can get a new brace and it ex­tends their lives for such min­i­mal cost. It’s like gold.” Pet own­ers aren’t the only ones he reaches out to. Med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als, too, need to be ed­u­cated in the value of pros­thet­ics. “Tra­di­tion­ally, vet­eri­nar­i­ans are taught to am­pu­tate,” he says. “I get to teach vets to am­pu­tate at the ap­pro­pri­ate point for the pur­poses of pros­thet­ics.” Pos­si­bly be­cause the fields of an­i­mal or­thotics and pros­thet­ics are so new, mis­con­cep­tions swirl around. “That it costs a for­tune is a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion,” he says. “They are ex­tremely af­ford­able and made to save peo­ple money,” he says. While surg­eries can start be­tween $2,000 and $5,000, braces and pros­thet­ics cost about $550 and $1,000 re­spec­tively, and braces can help an an­i­mal heal with­out the need for surgery. “This is the best job in the world,” Der­rick says. “I get to turn in­jured pets into bionic pets. I get to see an an­i­mal, born with a miss­ing foot, walk for the first time. I get to see an­i­mals walk again that were in­jured. It can’t get bet­ter than that. I have pet own­ers cry all the time, happy that their fam­ily mem­bers are be­ing treated.” He feels that even the an­i­mals are ap­pre­cia­tive. “Even though they can’t speak, I can tell…from their over­all de­meanor,” he says. “It’s amaz­ing. I want to do this for the rest of my life.”

Tater and her pros­thetic leg. leg.

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