Advancing medicine


Fort Collins, Colo. -- A Colorado State University (CSU) veterinary surgeon tests a new prosthetic.

Fort Collins, Colo.

-- Dr. Erick Egger, a small-animal orthopedic surgeon at Colorado State University's (CSU) veterinary teaching hospital, has for some time been theorizing on ways to improve the prosthetic limb process, and Sally, a Saluki breed, gave him a chance to test those theories.

When a call came in from Kuwait last summer about a dog running through the desert on only three legs with one bloody stump dragging the ground where her fourth leg should have been, Egger saw an opportunity to help and to test his theories.

Now, Sally is walking on four legs -- one with a titanium core and rubber foot -- and CSU is pursuing a patent on Egger's technique, which so far has allowed Sally's new leg to heal well, and with more sensitivity and less infection that traditional prosthetics.

Sally's story started last June when she was rescued by Protecting Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) International in Kuwait. After four hours of chasing Sally along the desert roadside, with her missing leg swinging and infected, volunteers finally caught her with the help of food laced with sedatives.

A PAWS volunteer who was a former CSU student contacted the school after veterinarians in Kuwait suggested a full amputation of Sally's leg. Knowing dogs with amputated limbs were not likely candidates for adoption in Kuwait, the former student reached out for another solution, says Eggers, who already had been researching ways to improve prosthetic procedures.

Others have been working on more effective prosthetics by allowing new bone and tissue to develop around titanium, but weren't able to get the technique quite right. Eggers had an idea on how it might work.

While the veterinarians in Kuwait weren't wrong to offer an amputation as a treatment, Eggers says Sally wouldn't have had a good life after the surgery and was eager to put his theories on prosthetics to the test.

So PAWS flew Sally more than 7,000 miles to CSU's hospital and her new home. Egger's adoption of Sally as a new member of his family was a condition of the deal. Erick and Sue Eggers already had five dogs, but Sally had no trouble fitting in.

"She took over the household. She's in charge of everybody," Eggers says of Sally, who is a mellow and lovable dog in spite of her disability.

Upon her arrival in Colorado, Eggers says Sally had a lot of problems related to her condition, including several hygromas. A series of surgeries began in January and included the removal of infected tissue and resetting of bones to prepare Sally for the implant, which was designed and built by the Swiss prosthetics company Kyon.

In May, Eggers implanted a piece of titanium with locking screw mechanisms into Sally's tibia. The approach is meant to allow bone and tissue eventually to grow directly into the implant, avoiding problems such as sensitivity, irritation and chewing on straps that animals normally have with implants, Eggers says.

The bone attachment also will give Sally a better feeling of where her new prosthetic foot is and improve functionality, once the implant heals completely. She also was fitted with a prosthetic foot from OrthoPets in Denver, Egger says.

How Eggers treated the membrane along the interface of the implant, which has caused problems in past prosthetic trials, will remain a mystery for now, while CSU pursues a patent for the unique procedure, he says. The technique holds promise for the improvement of prosthetics in humans, too, Egger adds.

The surgery could one day become a clinical procedure and, depending on whether the titanium implants could be produced in a cost-effective way, be in the same price range as a hip replacement.

There is no telling how Sally will fare long-term, but Eggers says he feels her healing is progressing well enough to deem the surgery a success.

"I'm sure we've still got some fine-tuning for this," Eggers says. "The concepts work, or at least are very promising and, based on that, the university decided to announce it."

Though Sally didn't seem to mind her affliction before, Eggers added that she already appears to enjoy her new addition and, to him, that makes the operation a success.

"She certainly bounces around on it better. She tried to use it before, but it would hit the ground and hurt her. At a slow walk, you'd have to look hard to see she's not even normal on it," Eggers says.

"We're not going to make her normal, but it does enable her to use the leg, and that's our ultimate hope."

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