Derrick Campana tells Moneyish about starting Animal Ortho Care and starring in Animal Planet’s ‘Dodo Heroes’
This miracle worker is giving pets — and even wild animals — a new leash on life.
Derrick Campana began his medical career treating humans with mobility issues, but has since carved a niche for himself in creating prosthetics and orthotics for pets — as well as horses, sheep, camels, gazelles, and now even elephants.
“I was doing the whole ‘human thing’ … but a vet brought in her dog, who needed a prosthetic, to my human practice. I made a prosthetic that was a success, and I immediately knew that this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” Campana, 39, from Sterling, Va. told Moneyish about his four-legged breakthrough 15 years ago. He cast a mold of the pup’s leg, and handcrafted an artificial limb from thermoplastics, as materials like carbon fiber are more expensive and less modifiable.
Charles the chocolate lab came into Campana’s office with his tail between its legs and unable to walk well, but the prosthetic right leg transformed him into a happy puppy. “He was running around, tail wagging, smiling … he just seemed so happy, and his owner was crying,” Campana recalled. “It’s the best feeling in the world, and you want to replicate that.”
So he started Animal Ortho Care about 15 years ago, which has helped pioneer the growing animal orthotics and prosthetics industry. And his pieces, which are created from medical-grade plastics before being custom-made by hand to fit each pet, run around $500 for braces, and $1,000 for prosthetic limbs. (In comparison, human prosthetics can run $5,000 to $50,000 for a leg, and an upper extremity device can range from $3,000 to $30,000.) And although these usually have to be paid for out-of-pocket, they are much less expensive than surgery. Consumer Reports notes that surgery to fix a dog’s torn ACL from a bad jump can cost about $3,300, for example.
“If you bring a dog in with a fractured toe, traditional a vet might amputate the entire limb,” said Campana. “But even though people say ‘my dog does pretty well on three legs,’ when you hop on one leg, the rest of your body can break down so quickly. We have proven that we can tack on at least two years to a dog’s life by adding a prosthetic.”
And now his work getting animals with injuries and disabilities on the move again is being highlighted in “Dodo Heroes,” a new Animal Planet series in partnership with The Dodo’s animal-loving digital media platform. The feel-good show premiering Saturday at 9 p.m. ET/PT showcases inspiring people around the world who are going to great lengths to help animals, such as an Australian family running a koala hospital on Magnetic Island, or the man and woman behind the Animal Defenders International, which works to free circus animals.
An elephant named Jabu has an injured leg that needs special attention. Enter Derrick Campana, an orthopedist who specializes in braces and prosthetics for animals.
Posted by Animal Planet on Wednesday, June 6, 2018
The series kicks off this weekend with Campana facing two of his greatest animal challenges yet: Crafting a leg brace for a five-ton, 30-year-old Botswana bull elephant named Jabu, as well as making four new prosthetic legs for a quadruple amputee dog named Chi Chi who was rescued from the South Korean meat trade. Jabu displaced the joint in his front right leg after he was attacked by a bull elephant and fell into a hole.
“There was a lot of stress with Jabu, whose life is threatened while he’s lame. Another bull may try to attack him, or he could fall again,” said Campana, who spent months working on a brace for Jabu’s leg. The elephant’s guardians in Bostwana cast a mold of the injured leg, which was shipped to Campana in Virginia, where he worked off the mold to vacuum-form the plastics and foams of the brace to fit the leg. He had to outsource some of the titanium parts to a human spinal brace company with an oven big enough to bake them, however. He’s made prosthetics for elephants before, but this was his first elephant leg brace.
“They all give me that stressful moment when I first fit the brace or prosthetic, because I don’t know how the animal is going to react to it,” Campana added. While he can guarantee his customers that a piece will fit, he can’t guarantee that the animal will accept it, because you can’t reason with animals the way you can with people about practicing on a brace or prosthetic, and adjusting it to be more comfortable.
Campana’s own dog has refused to wear any of the braces that he’s created for him to correct a displaced knee cap. “He is the worst patient ever. The biggest pain in the neck,” said Campana. “It’s hit or miss a lot; some dogs just lay down (with the prosthetic on). Some dogs get used to them five minutes, and some never do.” (Tune into the show on Saturday night to see how Jabu took to his high-tech brace, and how well Chi Chi is walking on his four prosthetics.)
Campana’s Animal Ortho Care is one of only a handful of services in the world specializing in designing prosthetic limbs and orthotic braces for animals, including OrthoPets in Colorado and K-9 Orthotics and Prosthetics in Nova Scotia.
And he welcomes the increased attention, especially in people loving and accepting animals with disabilities such as amputated limbs. “When I first started, people would just put these animals down, same as in the equine world, which I’m trying to change,” he said. “But now we’re seeing people caring about animals more. And things like this ‘Dodo Heroes’ series and our videos are raising awareness that things like dog prosthetics exist, and you can give your animals a second chance.”
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