No more wonky donkey: New prosthetic limb helps three-legged Emma run for the first timeEmma the miniature donkey was born with a deformed leg which had to be amputatedThe artificial leg is one of the first to be created by equine surgeonsIt could spark the start of prosthetic limbs becoming available for all horses
| UPDATED:16:14 GMT, 1 October 2012
A miniature donkey, born with a deformed leg, is thriving after being fitted with one of the first prosthetic limbs to be created by equine surgeons.
The young foal named Emma had her hind leg amputated at just two days old because it stopped her from standing.
But she is now enjoying a new lease of life after vets at Auburn University, Alabama, managed to create a special artificial leg for her, similar to those used by Paralympic athletes.
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Miniature donkey Emma, pictured with her owner Cece Smith, proudly displaying her prosthesis limb which allows her to stand
The leg needs to be replaced every few months until Emma is fully grown, but at five months old, she is able to run around with the rest of her herd.
She is now on her second prosthesis and experts predict she will need about seven different legs before she reaches adulthood.
Dr Fred Caldwell, an assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences and equine surgeon at the university, performed the procedure and is working with clinician Billy Fletcher from Hanger Clinic.
The clinic is part of the same company which created a prosthetic tail for Winter, the amputee dolphin and star of the film ‘Dolphin Tale’, who lost her tail after she was caught in a crab trap off the coast of Florida.
Thanks to the artificial limb Emma can run around and jump like the rest of the group
She was fitted with the pink prosthesis after surgeons amputated her severely deformed leg which stopped her from walking
Dolphin trainer Cammie Zodrow with Winter the dolphin, who was fitted with a prosthetic tail by the same company who fitted Emma the miniature donkey with an artificial limb
The two worked out a plan to allow Emma time to heal from the surgery and transition from her cast to the prosthesis.
DrCaldwell said: ‘Once we proceeded with the surgery and amputated the distal limb, he provided a small footplate to incorporate into the cast to even out the length of her hind limbs so she could bear weight until we could get the surgical site healed and have her fitted with a prosthesis.
‘It has been a group effort on behalf of many caring individuals willing to go to great lengths to save her.’
Emma”s case is providing a unique teaching opportunity for the clinicians involved, as the practice of using prostheses with large horses is relatively uncommon due to size and weight-bearing limitations.
But because Emma is a miniature donkey, even as an adult she will only weigh approximately 350 pounds once fully grown.
A team of doctors and surgeons from Auburn University, Alabama, carefully fit Emma with her latest prosthesis
The veterinary team are excited at Emma”s progress since she was fitted with the prosthetuic limb – which could soon be an option for all horses
Dr Caldwell added: ‘She absolutely loved it from the start. It was a very impressive design and she did very well in it.
A close-up of Emma”s first prosthetic limb which has enabled her to run
‘She has progressed to the second iteration of her prosthesis, which doesn”t incorporate as much of the limb and allows her more range of motion. She is getting stronger; she”sgrowing and doing wonderfully.’
Theprosthesis is made of carbon fibre, Kevlar and fibreglass, materials that are strong and extremely light, and the same as though used for prostheses for Paralympic athletes.
The first finished prosthesis weighed less than a pound and the most recent iteration, which is pink, is smaller, but weighs a little more to provide stability as she”s grown taller and almost doubled her weight since surgery.
Prosthesis expert Billy said: ‘The next step is trying to make sure we keep the prosthesis set up so she”s ambulatory and she can run and play and do things uninhibited, but also, to keep the area of concern, the surgical site, offloaded so Dr Caldwell can do his job in keeping her completely healed.
‘As time goes by, we”ll continue to provide a prosthesis that”s going to allow for growth.
‘We want to provide her with full range of motion, but also give her the ability to use full strength.’
Dr Caldwell added: ‘It”s been very educational for me as an equine surgeon to learn; this has certainly been my first case.
‘I think we have a long way to go before we get to this being a procedure that”s routinely an option for our larger patients, but for a prosthetic limb to be an option in horses is something that”s pretty exciting.’
Emma has no problem grazing alongside the other ponies and horses in the field following the efforts of her veterinary team
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