Every day, little ones are born without limbs, or lose them to accidents or abuse. Prosthetics are human-made arms, legs, fingers and thumbs that do the work that nature can’t.
Thing is, prosthetics are also extremely expensive, and every design case is unique, whether it’s for a puppy or a baby. Enter 3D printing, which can tailor each and every design at super-low cost. That’s important for super-individuals in need of palms or paws.
Humans can struggle to adjust to a limb-less life and the social stigma can be hard to live with. Animals missing vital body parts often come to a premature end in the wild, and pets tend to be put down if vets and guardians can’t put their finger on a suitable solution soon enough. Enter modern technology…
How do you say no to a child who needs a hand? You don’t, if you’re Stephen Davis and Drew Murraybeen. They’ve been voluntarily supplying kids around the world with free 3D-printed prosthetic limbs for a while now.
If they started out of a backyard shed, you can too. “All our work is shared as open source for the benefit of all,” say Stephen and Drew, “for non-commercial use”. Thumbs up, Team unLIMBited.
(Photos reproduced with kind permission of Team unLIMBited)
E-nABLE is another community project putting their best design foot forward for kids. E-nABLE keeps it simple – no motors, no sensors, no heavy batteries.
This collaborative project was inspired by Jon Schull, a research scientist at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, USA.
He came across a YouTube story of a South African carpenter named Richard who had lost the fingers of one hand in an accident and approached a puppet-maker, Ivan, to design a replacement.
People were offering the use of their 3D printers in YouTube comments, and Jon began to coordinate these offers. “Then something beautiful started happening,” E-nABLE says, “designers started joining and doing exactly what Ivan had hoped they would – they started innovating, collaborating and re-sharing the improved design files back out into the universe!”
Youth groups, schools, maker spaces and laboratories are joining the movement.
Working together, humans are helping animals lead full and active lives no matter what situation they came from or how many of their limbs or other exterior body parts work.
A sanctuary in New York county, USA, takes in animals in need. Some of these rescues need more support than others and they get it, thanks to co-founder Jenny Brown, herself an amputee, and certified prosthetist, Erik Tompkins. Their efforts are a great example of the collaborative power of individual commitment and compassion.
Then there’s a Brazilian goose called Vitória who needed a new beak. Her injury left her completely dependent on humans for her daily sustenance. It took two tries for Miamoto, custom prosthetics manufacturer for wild animals and domestic pets, to design her the perfect pair of 3D-printed goose “lips”. What is really her jaw, not her lips, is made from a biodegradable polymer with corn and sugarcane. Take a gander!
With a little training and a lot of love, a professional prosthetist in applied his human-oriented training to animals.
Derrick Campanna sends casting kits to vets and animal lovers with pet amputees all over the world. They cast the limbs, send the cast back and soon the Animal Ortho Care team crafts a bespoke solution with a brace and limb.
“If a dog gets his leg amputated,” Derrick tells PetMD, “a lot of times [his] other joints will degenerate very quickly,” he says. “But when we put a prosthetic on, you can redistribute the weight back onto the amputated side and essentially give the dog a couple of added years of high-quality life.” He’s helped everything from a llama to a 5-tonne elephant bull in Botswana.
Check out these other local suppliers for prosthetics, support harnesses, wheelchairs and mobility products:
Remember, if it’s an option, pre-operative preparation is everything. The problem, says Dr Megan Kelly, a vet and educator based in Cape Town, is that clients make contact when the vet has already amputated, by which time it’s often too late for a good fitting. “Vets are taught to amputate as high as possible and when we attach the prosthetic, we need some bone to attach it to,” the doctor told IOL