VSOS Surgeon successfully fits new Bionic limb in Australian first.

Alithia is a 1-year-old German shepherd that was born in the breech position which created problems during labour. Unfortunately during the birth, her mother tried to pull her out and in the process chewed her foot so severely, that she lost it post-birth. Alithia’s owner opted to never have the leg fully amputated with the hope to save it and gain some function in the future.

Bella the 2nd patient

Bella presented to our emergency department with complications related to her rear right foot. She had been out walking and managed to cut it quite badly. Taken to her local vet, she had surgical staples inserted to help heal her injury and was bandaged up and discharged. Post-visit and due to some external complications, the foot suffered a lack of circulation and developed gangrene, unfortunately leaving no choice but for it to be amputated.

A new type of procedure

Throughout her life Alithia, the German Shepherd had never really used her hind leg as it was shorter than her other 3, but she did rest on it from time to time. The hope for the future was that a bionic leg may be able to provide her with a functional limb to use.

Bella’s situation was a little different from Alithia’s. Because she was quite a young dog, the option of either full leg amputation or partial limb amputation with the possibility of placing a bionic foot was discussed. The owners elected for this experimental procedure and the first step towards this involved creating a healthy skin bone interface that would hopefully receive the implant. Over a number of weeks following her foot amputation, we used bandaging to create a healthy skin site.

To prepare for the ground breaking surgery, Dr Andrew Levien teamed up with Professor Munjed Al Muderis, a world-renowned human orthopaedic surgeon to assist. Both dogs required a similar procedure, however, due to the nature of their injuries, both had different considerations and challenges to take into account, including how they would adapt and learn to walk again with their new limbs. For both, CAT scans were done and from this, implants designed and built that would fit into their respective bones.

For Alithia, the surgery thus far has been a success and at this point, she is learning how to use her fourth leg quite quickly and improving every week. Initially, she would plant her left hind limb very centrally (as she had always done), which would interfere with the movement of the right hind limb, as she was not used to having a functional right hind leg. However, she is quickly learning to adapt and is now placing her left hind with more distance from the right hind and is able to walk well. Over time we hope she adapts to having a fourth leg, as she is a highly active and energetic dog. One of the challenges we faced with Alithia is that being a German shepherd, she is quite crouched in her hind limbs with a very low posture compared to other dogs. We had to accommodate that into our design of the foot to enable her to place pressure on the leg at various angles. Naturally, she walks with her foot leg bent at about 40-45 degrees which is very different from most dogs.

For Bella, a few months after her initial operation, she returned for her bionic leg surgery and received an implant similar to Alithia’s. Fortunately, she walks with a more upright stance compared to Alithia, so her foot design is a lot more like other dogs. The benefit for Bella is that she has had a good leg to walk on for a number of years prior to the surgery, so has adapted to having a new foot quickly. She is currently walking very well on her new leg and we excited to see her progress over the next few years.

See the full video of both Alithia and Bella’s journey, with a detailed description by Dr Andrew Levien on how he completed these amazing surgeries and the process behind it here.

To view more images of this unbelievable procedure, please click here.


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