What began as an effort to improve the life of one dog has progressed into a project that could benefit the millions living with missing limbs.
Sally, a one year-old Saluki rescued from the streets of Kuwait earlier this year, is currently being treated and studied at CSU’s veterinary hospital as a likely candidate for revolutionary prosthesis surgery.
The young dog suffered an unknown trauma that lost her one of her hind legs. However, Sally’s continued efforts to use her stump make her a prime candidate for a new prosthesis, which would fuse to her bone, becoming a part of her body.
Veterinarian Erick Egger, associate professor of small-animal orthopedic surgery at the CSU vet hospital and Sally’s adopted “dad,” has worked with Sally since her arrival, and said, although the process will take time, he has high hopes for the dog.
Working with the vet staff and animal prosthetic specialist veterinarian Bob Taylor, Erick Egger is now debating between several different prosthetic designs.
The idea behind the designs is to keep Sally from treating the prosthetic as a foreign object and chewing it off. It also requires less maintenance then a standard prosthetic leg.
“These implant and prosthetic combinations are relatively new for animals, so this should keep CSU at the cutting edge of animal treatment,” said Steve Holden, a CSU graduate and the PAWS volunteer who originally brought Sally to Colorado from Kuwait, in an e-mail interview Monday.
“I have a lot of confidence in Dr. Egger and the personnel there (the vet hospital). They invited me to observe some of their work while I was there, and it was an impressive operation,” Holden said.
And with any luck, the procedure may one day be applied to 1.9 million human amputees living in the U.S., according to Time magazine. This number is only expected to grow with the return of Iraq war veterans.
Since the school year began, Sally has undergone several minor surgeries to remove water fluid blisters, called hygromas, from her elbows, caused by laying on hard surfaces.
The two-week long process involved draining the sacks with a plastic tube and applying bandages to soak up the fluids.
“Sally’s a good patient,” said Erick Egger’s wife, Sue Egger, who welcomed Sally into their home just a few months ago. “She tolerated the bandages really well, even though they looked funny. I think she’ll be able to handle the future surgeries really well.”
With the hygromas removed, more focus is being made on picking the right prosthetic. Erick Egger said they have to take special care to make sure they pick a model that will both allow the bone to grow into it as well as keep infection from ascending the stem.
One of the options being considered consists of a metal leg implanted directly into the bone, with hopes that the soft tissues around the bone would grow around it.
The implant Taylor has used is covered with tiny holes in areas, creating a roughness that is supposed to encourage skin growth around it.
“There is no urgency in picking a design,” said Erick Egger. “The end of her stump is now healthy and looks good, and we don’t want to risk causing any problems.”
An alternative design uses titanium instead of steel, and involves using screws to lock the prosthesis in place until the bone grows into it. This allows enough adaptability to treat 90 percent of cases without ordering custom made prosthetics, saving both time and money.
“We want the end design to be both economically feasible and more adaptable than current prosthetics being used,” Erick Egger said. “We want it to be usable in a broader sense, not just for dogs, but potentially for humans.”
So for the time being, Sally is enjoying Colorado life like any four-legged dog.
“At first she was quiet and agreeable, and her first night here she was fearful of the other dogs,” Sue Egger said. “But now she has these wild stages where she runs around, jumps on the beds and barks. She can be both relaxed and playful, and has quite a personality.”
Although the last thing Sally’s playful personality needs is caffeine, the Eggers claim she’s a java junkie, taking laps out of any Starbucks cup or mug left unattended.
Salukis are known to be thieves, Sue Egger said, and Sally is no exception. Erick Egger will often find his wallet or keys hidden under the bed and behind furniture.
Despite her trickery, the Egger’s now consider Sally part of their four-dog family, and plan to take special care of her as she prepares for her future surgery.
“She’s really progressing, and she’s become like my daughter,” Erick Egger said. “We really want to ultimately do what’s best for her.”
Staff writer Margaret Canty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org