One four-legged companion got a fresh start in 2014, thanks to the work of a Rock Hill-based technology company. 3D Systems has helped Derby walk like a normal dog for the first time in his life.
Derby, a mixed breed who looks like a husky, was born with a congenital deformity leaving him with small forelegs and no front paws. Unassisted, he can’t walk properly, and when he does, it can only be on soft surfaces.
“He was scooting around on these nubs and chest,” Melissa Hannon, who rescued Derby through her New Hampshire dog rescue center, Peace and Paws, told ABC News.
Tara Anderson, a project management director for 3D Systems, spotted Derby at Peace and Paws and offered to foster him.
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One of the women at the shelter was joking when she suggested getting Derby some prosthetic legs, but it sparked Anderson’s interest and she got her company and their products involved.
“By 3D printing the prosthetics, we were able to fully customize them to match Derby’s unique shape,” Anderson said.
3D Systems used a printer that can incorporate different materials at the same time, creating plastic and rubber legs that are specially fit for Derby’s features. They have anti-slip rubber bottoms and rigid spokes for comfort and support.
Suddenly, Anderson said, Derby could get around like any other pup, and he adjusted surprisingly fast.
“It was an amazing feeling to watch Derby take off with his prosthetics for the first time,” Anderson said. “You could tell he was so happy to be able to run and play like he had always wanted.”
It took several tries to get the fit just right, and his body needs to adjust, so they’re gradually making his “legs” bigger and bigger until he reaches his natural height – instead of having to lean forward like he has his whole life.
“It’s like finding the perfect pair of jeans,” Anderson said. “It takes a little time, but well worth the wait.”
Anderson and 3D Systems designers Kevin Atkins and Dave DiPinto, working with a certified animal orthotist in Virginia, used digital data of Derby’s forelegs and 3D scan data of a cup design to create the 3D design of the prosthetics.
“The beauty of 3D printing is that if the design needs to be adjusted, we don’t have to wait for time-consuming and expensive traditional manufacturing processes,” said 3D Systems vice president Buddy Byrum. “We can simply print out a new set.
“The dovetailing of 3D scanning and design with ... 3D printing allowed for the creation of complete prosthetics printed in a single build, custom-fit to Derby.”
Derby has been adopted permanently by a couple named Sherri and Dom Portanova, who report Derby is doing very well.
“The first time he was put on them and he took off running, he was so happy,” Sherri Portanova said in a video for 3D Systems.
Dom Portanova said Derby is now running two to three miles a day on his new legs and doing very well.
“When I saw him sprinting like that on his new legs,” he said, “it was just amazing.”