Derrick Campana was a newcomer to human prosthetics about a dozen years ago when he met a holistic veterinarian. She asked him to make a prosthetic limb for her dog. He wasn’t exactly sure how it would go, but he said he would try. What ended up being a strange request turned into a career- and life-changing moment for Campana. He began expanding to include more animal clients, but it wasn’t easy-going in the beginning. Back then, veterinarians thought animal prosthetics were a completely eccentric idea. In an interview with Mother Nature Network, he said:
“Prosthetics was such a bad word back in the day. Vets didn’t want to take away surgeries, and didn’t know much about them […] They did a lot of high-level amputations. Traditionally, vets would take the entire leg even if it was just a problem with the toe.”
Things slowly began to change, however, when he began spreading the word in veterinary offices and online. Pet owners soon realized they had another, perhaps better, option when it came to their pets. Instead of expensive surgeries and/or full amputations, they could give prosthetics a try and hope for a better quality of life for their pets. Braces could help heal problems or prevent them from worsening and prosthetics would often allow pets to keep their limb(s). This exploded into Campana’s amazing company: Animal Ortho Care, LLC. His goal is to provide the best alternatives to amputation.
In the last few years, Campana has developed an at-home kit that allows pet owners to create casts of their pet’s affected limb(s) at home, with or without the help of a veterinarian. The materials come with instructions and a step-by-step video and once you’ve created the cast, you send it to Animal Ortho Care and get a prosthetic in return. Campana says he sends the kits all over the world and is able to help animals without ever seeing them.
In fact, he only sees about 20% of his patients in person. While the vast majority of his patients are of the canine variety, Campana has treated all sorts of species including elephants, ponies, deer, sheep, donkeys, goats, a llama and even a crane. There is truly no limit to the type of species Campana will attempt to treat and their stories are sometimes quite incredible. The two elephants he worked with in Thailand, Motala and Mosha, needed his prosthetics after they stepped on a landmine.
While he guarantees that the prosthetics will fit, he can’t guarantee that pets will enjoy them. Although many are successful, some pets just don’t want anything to do with their new aids. He says of his animal patients,
“It’s all over the board. Some get used to it right away; some never get used to it […] We can tell humans what to do, we can’t tell animals what to do. We never know how an animal is going to react.”
He says his own dog has a knee issue but is “the worst patient in the world,” so they manage it other ways. He notes that larger dogs seem to adapt better than smaller ones, likely due to the increased surface area for the device. Still, the benefits of trying a prosthetic quite often outweigh the disadvantages.
Campana estimates that he creates about 200 prosthetics a month and has done about 15,000-20,000 so far in his career. Ranging from $500-$1,200, they are often much cheaper than surgery and are generally much safer as well. More and more veterinarians are referring clients to him to keep animals out of highly invasive surgeries. “We’re completely changing the veterinary community as a whole, and obviously helping pets is what I want to do,” Campana says. “The more pets I can help without surgical intervention and giving pets more options to feel better is what we’re all about.”