Oct 11, 2017 | By Tess

A 34-year-old parrot named Pete can stand and waddle again thanks to a 3D printed prosthetic boot. The blue-crowned mealy Amazon parrot lost his left foot after being attacked in his cage by a fox.

Pete has been with his owner Stacey Gehringer since he was just a baby, so she knew something was horribly wrong when her husband heard the green parrot screeching from inside his aviary at their home in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

According to Gehringer’s husband Ben Spalding, Pete had been climbing the wire mesh of the aviary enclosure when a fox attacked him and managed to grab a hold of his left claw.

“The fox got his left foot and ripped it off,” Spalding told press. After scaring the fox away, the couple swaddled the injured bird and raced him to nearest veterinary clinic. Unfortunately, however, the nearest vet did not have a bird specialist on hand, so Spalding and Gehringer had to drive even further to Penn Vet, an advanced veterinary clinic which had an avian specialist on hand.

Upon admission to the clinic, the Penn Vet team got to work stabilizing the poor bird and treating his wounds. Once the bird was in a more stable condition, La’Toya Latney, the service head and attending clinician at the Exotic Companion Animal Medicine & Surgery at Penn Vet, proceeded to amputate Pete’s left foot.

La'Toya Latney holds Pete

Thanks to the clinic’s expert help and Pete’s quick bird metabolism (which created red blood cells at a quick rate), the middle-aged parrot was going to survive the fox attack.

Still, the problem of how Pete would adapt to only having a single leg and foot remained. Ultimately, however, Latney decided that the bird’s physical state and calm demeanour would make him suitable for a prosthetic. (It is apparently difficult for larger birds to adapt well to prosthetics.)

The goal with the prosthetic was to relieve stress on Pete’s remaining foot, which could in the long term cause painful arthritis and other issues. Latney explained that even having the bird wear the prosthetic for a few hours a day would be beneficial.

Now for the fun part: making the bird prosthetic. For this stage, Latney reached out to Jonathan Wood, a staff veterinarian specializing in neurology and neurosurgery who has also worked extensively with 3D printing technology (primarily to make surgical models). Together, they got in touch with the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design Fabrication Lab to prototype Pete’s prosthetic foot.

After a few different iterations, the Penn Vet team found that a polymer-based, boot-shaped prosthetic was probably the best bet for the bird, as it could be attached to a “flight suit” (a fabric harness which supports a sleeve on Pete’s amputated leg) using a bit of foam and a magnet.

Once fitted with the 3D printed prosthetic and the flight suit harness, Pete did rustle his feathers a little bit, though in the end he used the prosthetic for support and reportedly even tried to take a step with it.

Of course, there is still work to be done on the prosthetic—the magnet attachment came apart when the bird tried to step—but the Penn Vet team seem hopeful that they are equipped to find an even better prosthetic solution for the one-legged bird.

“He’s making big strides quite quickly,” Latney said about Pete. “All of this makes me very happy.”

(Images: Penn Vet)

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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