Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Prosthetics Are Not Just For People...

While nearly all of the posts on this blog have been for people, animals are not immune to the issues that people also face. This is an inspirational story of Winter the Dolphin, a 3-month-old bottlenose dolphin found off the Florida coast with her tail caught in a crab trap. She was taken to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where she received around-the-clock care. Handlers moved her through the water because she was too weak to swim on her own.

The net had badly damaged her tail, and as the days went by, pieces of it began falling off. In spite of the staff’s best efforts, her tail had to be amputated. But this was one dolphin who wasn’t going to give up. Winter learned to swim in a side-to-side motion like an alligator or shark. She could breathe and eat and move herself around. But her keepers were worried that the movements she had to make would eventually damage her spine. Enter prosthetic specialist Kevin Carroll of Hanger Orthopedic Group, Inc.

Carroll, who travels the world tackling the most difficult human cases, had called the aquarium to offer his services. A cast was made of Winter’s residual limb, and Carroll created a latex tail prosthesis for the dolphin. And even though she had only spent three months swimming with a tail as a baby, Winter was able to relearn the normal motions of her species and fully recover.

That was four years ago. Today, the dolphin wears a less cumbersome, updated version of her artificial flukes. Hundreds of amputees have visited her in Florida, where she resides at the aquarium, and the innovations that allowed her to regain natural movement in the water have been used to improve human prosthetics.

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