Lending a Helping Paw
Derrick Campana, 38, has been called Dr. Doolittle more than once. Campana, who founded Animal Ortho Care in Northern Virginia, works in the emerging field of animal orthotics. He is committed to helping handicapped dogs, cats, and even elephants walk again.
High-tech plastics have led to incredible advancements in human prosthetics over the last thirty years. But animals have only benefited recently with the help of inventors like Campana. Using lower-cost thermoplastics, Campana is able to help animals walk and run again, and change what veterinarians think is possible.
Campana, who had always been an animal lover, studied and trained in human orthotics and prosthetics. One day, a veterinarian came to the human clinic where Campana was working, and asked for a prosthetic for a dog. “I made the device and it was successful, and I just thought to myself, ‘wow there's probably a lot of animals that need these types of services,’” Campana said.
He launched a business translating his knowledge from the human side to animals. But human prosthetics are very expensive and he realized he needed to find a way to make these products affordable. Fortunately, he discovered he was able to use lower cost thermoplastics such as polypropylene and polyethylene. “We have to keep these devices cost-effective for the owners, and high-temperature or low-temperature thermoplastics are very cost-effective and modifiable. You can heat form these to fit the dogs better and adjust them as needed.” He has now helped about 10,000 patients, like dogs who lost their paws in train accidents and elephants who were injured in land mine explosions.
Campana is currently making customized braces using his own proprietary blend of low-temperature plastic. He hopes this can help dogs with anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.
He is encouraged to see more veterinarians embrace prosthetics. “It is more about acceptance,” Campana said. “When I first started, brace in the veterinarian community… was a bad word, but veterinarians are now accepting this as a part of their practice, and reshaping the veterinary field has always been my goal.”
The Evolution of Prosthetics & Orthotics
Historically, human prosthetics were crude devices. They were often made from wood, steel and leather, and movement was frequently difficult for patients. However, war veterans returning from WWII pushed for improved options.
Over time, advancements in materials and plastics allowed for more solutions for patients. The new prosthetics were lighter weight, more customizable and easier to clean.
Breakthrough advances in human orthotics are now being translated and applied to animals. Lower cost materials, like polyethylene, now allow pet owners to afford orthotics and prosthetics that typically are not covered by insurance.
Riding a Magic Carpet
On the crystal blue waters of Maui, Alex Aguera, 56, a former professional windsurfer, is shaping a new sport. Hydrofoil surfing is the latest chapter in the evolution of water sports. Preceded by big wave surfing, windsurfing, kiteboarding and stand-up paddleboarding, hydrofoil surfing looks a little like riding a magic carpet. “It feels like you are flying or levitating,” Aguera said. “You are above the water, slicing right through everything, you don’t even feel the chop anymore.” The foils are about 2-by-2 feet and shaped like the rudder to a boat, and attached to the bottom of a small surfboard. The rider then pushes up onto the board, and floats above the water. In hydrofoil surfing, a rider typically wants the board to come out of the water slowly so he or she doesn’t fall off. “I created a foil that could get out of the water at a super slow speed,” Aguera said. “No one had ever done that before.”
Aguera began windsurfing as a teenager when his dad directed him away from motorcycles and towards the water. He has always made surfboards for himself and other pro surfers. “My first board was pretty much a big giant mess that I made in about 1979, when I was a kid in high school,” he said.
Several years ago, a friend taught him to make a hydrofoil, and soon after he started selling them. He recently founded his business, Go Foil, which is one of the leading companies in Hawaii making hydrofoils. Aguera uses an advanced form of resin-coated carbon fiber that comes as a fabric. He lays this fabric into a mold, sticks it in an autoclave, essentially a high-tech oven, to bake, and then the carbon fiber takes the form of the mold.
The Anatomy of a Hydrofoil
“The main advantage of carbon fiber is it is super light for how strong it is. Per pound, it is one of the strongest materials that we have on the planet,” Aguera says. “And our foils float. If you used aluminum you would not float.”
The Anatomy of a Hydrofoil
Surfboards were once made almost exclusively from foam and fiberglass. Now, carbon fiber is becoming a more popular material for board construction.
Construction can vary by board model but most contain a core layer made of foam covered with layers of carbon fiber. Finally an outer shell-like layer is often made of resin and fiberglass.
Carbon fiber is popular for hydrofoil board construction because it’s both strong and lightweight. The material is made from filaments of carbon that can be thinner than a strand of hair. It gets its strength when twisted together like yarn and can be woven together to form cloth.
Painting a New Reality
Sarah Northway, 38, a video-game designer turned digital artist from Vancouver, is at the forefront of a group of online creators using virtual reality software to make art. To work, Northway puts on one of the new VR headsets and plugs into a virtual canvas tethered to a computer.
The headset is made by heating and forming PC-ABS plastic with an injection mold. The result is a customized, hard, durable, break-resistant substance that allows art to come to life. Using Tilt Brush, the plastic controllers on her hands operate the paintbrushes, and the surrounding walls are blank. “It is just so whimsical,” Northway said. “A lot of the brushes are light-based, so you'll be in a dark room, and it's just like this illuminated beautiful light coming out of your hand and it feels like you're at a rave.”
Creators are making many different types of work, ranging from underwater documentaries to digital paintings. Artists like Northway create online galleries to show their work. Now, the art world is taking note. “It's entirely virtual,” Northway said. “So, everyone who comes to visit the gallery is just standing in their own living room in their own headset.”
Viewers step inside the space, either by themselves or in multiplayer groups. “The base of the canvas is a campfire,” Northway said. “And because it's a multiplayer experience you can get a few people together and sit around the campfire and chat.”
Now Northway and her husband Colin are taking their show on the road. They are talking to local galleries and the San Francisco Museum of Art. Northway hopes they can eventually have a virtual gallery within a physical space. “We want to push the market so virtual reality is for everyone, not just for hardcore gamers,” Northway said. “We want it to be for anyone who wants to experience this new crazy medium and see what art will be in this new space.”
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