Beyond the Hill

Orthotics and Prosthetics Club at University of Delaware creates new leg for dog

Courtesy of Vicki Cassman

Tika, a terrier mix, fell 10 feet from a ledge, sustaining injuries that forced veterinary doctors to amputate her front left leg up to the shoulder. In an effort to keep the dog in prime physical condition for as long as possible, her owner reached out to the University of Delaware’s Orthotics and Prosthetics Club.

The Orthotics and Prosthetics Club at the University of Delaware has created a new leg for a patient in need — a patient that happens to be a dog.

Before securing adoption last February from Vicki Cassman, an associate professor at UD, Tika, a terrier mix, fell 10 feet from a ledge, sustaining injuries that forced veterinary doctors to amputate her front left leg up to the shoulder.

Tika’s three-legged status puts her at risk for a number of health problems as she ages, which Cassman said is because of the way Tika is now forced to walk.

“She takes that right leg and she puts it in the middle, and it’s a really odd angle for her leg. And you know that eventually, it’s going to cause a great deal of harm in that giant shoulder joint,” said Cassman.

In an effort to keep Tika in prime physical condition for as long as possible, Cassman reached out to UD’s Orthotics and Prosthetics Club, a student-run organization.

“I suggested (the idea of creating a prosthesis) to them, and they were thrilled,” Cassman said. “They’ve taken on this incredible challenge.”

Bretta Fylstra, co-fonder of the Orthotics and Prosthetics Club and a senior biomedical engineering major at UD, said the club was immediately enthusiastic about Cassman’s idea.

“We thought it would be a really great project for us to learn and get some hands-on experience,” she said.

Fylstra said the biggest challenge in creating prosthesis for Tika has been finding a way to attach the actual fake limb.

“Because she doesn’t have a residual limb, it’s sliding a lot, so it doesn’t stay centered underneath of her — it kicks out to the side, and it’s useless then,” Fylstra said.

Fylstra said she and the other club members have been researching online to find different possible designs that circumvent that issue. So far they have tried using a “loop” design, to no avail and a wheel.

The club plans to create the prosthetic limb using plastic — specifically, high-density polyethylene, which is rigid but has some spring — and other low-cost materials, Fylstra said.

The limb is still in the process of being made. Fylstra said the club is just looking through designs right now, but it hopes to finish the leg during winter break, when there won’t be other academic distractions.

“We have a January semester, so there’s a couple students that will be around and we won’t have to worry about classes We can just spend a lot more time working on it,” she said.

Regardless of when the limb is finished, Cassman said the experience working with the club has been “great” so far, and that the end result is more important to her than the wait.

Said Cassman: “It would be really wonderful for (Tika) to have the ability to go a bit longer, see a little bit more of the world.”

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