May 11, 2017 | By Benedict

A parrot named Pete is being fitted with a 3D printed prosthetic foot after losing his natural one in a nasty fox attack. The procedure is being orchestrated by Dr. Jonathan Wood, Staff Veterinarian in Neurology and Neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania’s Ryan Hospital in Philadelphia.

Imagine the fright that Pete the parrot must have received earlier this year when an unwelcome fox approached his aviary at night. Seeing an opportunity for dinner, the predator eyed the beautiful green bird from afar, stealthily moved up close, and then went in for the kill.

Fortunately, this was not to be the fox’s night, as the 34-year-old Mealy Amazon parrot was able to scramble up the side of his enclosure, narrowly evading death. But the escape proved costly, with Pete losing a foot during the struggle.

When Pete’s owners, married couple Benjamin Spalding and Stacey Gehringer, found Pete after hearing his screams, they immediately took him to Penn’s Ryan Hospital, where he was treated by Dr. La’Toya Latney, Service Head and Attending Clinician. The bird was patched up, but was left with a stump for a foot.

For some birds, this loss of a foot would not be such a disaster: lightweight specimens are generally able to hop around on one leg without doing themselves any harm. Pete, however, was on the larger side, and leaving him to survive on one foot would have put too much strain on the lone limb, potentially causing arthritis.

Pete the parrot lost a foot following a fox attack

Wanting to get their parrot upright again, Spalding and Gehringer sought advice on how they could get Pete’s foot fixed, and were directed to Dr. Jonathan Wood, Staff Veterinarian in Neurology and Neurosurgery at the hospital.

Wood, having close ties with a group of 3D printing experts at the University of Pennsylvania, teamed up with student Gregory Kaiman and Penn’s Biomedical Library 3D printing group in order to come up with a solution for Pete.

“I wanted to see what we could do for Pete with 3D printing,” said Wood. “We think about animals that will rehab well and animals that will rehab poorly, similar to people. If there was a parrot that wanted to use what we made for him, Pete seemed to be a good candidate.”

Together, the multidisciplinary team came up with some 3D printable designs for Pete that looked more like camera tripods than body parts.

But initial experiments with the 3D printed feet proved unsuccessful. While the designs made by Wood and his team did look a bit like bird legs, they weren’t strong enough to support Pete’s weight. The designers would have to go back to the drawing board.

A slender prosthesis design (above) was developed into a more sturdy version (below)

A new set of prototypes turned out bulkier but much more stable, and resembled a walking boot. They were made from 3D printed polymer resin and varied in pliability and hardness. When the moment came to fit Pete with the redesigned prosthesis, the group could not have been happier with the parrot’s response.

“He didn’t bite at it, he didn’t try to tear away at it,” said Latney. “At points when he felt stable, he would actually bear weight on it.”

There was just one problem: while Pete didn’t seem to mind having the 3D printed leg attached to him, the prosthesis kept slipping off. A third design would have to made with a more secure attachment.

That third (and hopefully final) design is currently in development, and the team has a few ideas about how they’ll make it work. One option is to use a flight vest device; another is to add a sock-like rim to the prosthesis.

Pete is now on the road to recovery

“In the meantime, we’ve encouraged Pete’s owners to do physical therapy on the remaining limb,” said Latney.

While Pete continues to hop around on his stump for now, everyone involved in this heartwarming project is confident that the bird will soon be back to his old self.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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