Prosthetist Keeps Poultry in Motion

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By Jim Young, CP, FAAOP

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: Well, in this case he was searching for the newest Amputee Prosthetic Clinic in south Georgia

Jim Young, CP, FAAOP, was attacking a small stack of administrative paperwork at his new prosthetic care facility in Tifton, Georgia, when the phone rang. Jim answered with his usual greeting, "Amputee Prosthetic Clinic; Jim speaking; may I help you?" The caller said, "Hey, I've been driving past your facility and could not help but notice your sign with the colorful pirate for the last month, and I've been meaning to call you."

The caller explained that he was a physician whose office was around the corner, and that what he was about to ask was no joke. "Alrighty then," Jim thought, "let's have it."

Rooster Loses Limb

The caller (we'll call him Dr. Farmer) explained that he raises fancy chickens as a hobby, and that about a year ago his rooster got his leg caught up in some bailing twine. Before Dr. Farmer discovered the entangled rooster, circulation had been disrupted to the point that gangrene had set in, and the result was a spontaneous amputation. Next Dr. Farmer asked Jim if he had ever made a prosthetic device for an animal, and, "Do you think you could make a prosthesis for a chicken?"

Jim proceeded to tell Dr. Farmer that in fact he had once made a prosthesis for a dog, but that after gimping around as a tripod for a year, the prosthesis was more a chew toy that anything else. "However, a chicken being bipedal might increase the chances for success, if we can find a way to gain purchase and suspend the prosthesis," Jim said. In other words, Jim's answer to whether or not he could make a prosthetic limb for a chicken was an emphatic "maybe?"

The night before the chicken was to be seen, Jim scoured the Internet, researching chicken anatomy. Dr. Farmer described what he thought was a below-the-knee type amputation during the initial conversation. However, after a little research, Jim believed the amputation was more likely a partial foot amputation. Jim, like many folks, believed that a chicken's knee bends the opposite direction of a human knee, but that is not true. What most people think of as a chicken's knee is actually the ankle. Chickens and humans have a femur, but where humans have a tibia and fibula, chickens have a tibiotarsus, and where humans have tarsal bones for a multi-axial ankle, chickens have a tarsus/metatarsus for a single-axis ankle. Schedules were coordinated and confirmed, recoordinated and reconfirmed, until finally the chicken was brought in for evaluation and consult.

Designing the Chicken-Foot' Prosthesis

During the evaluation, Jim's suspicion of a partial foot amputation was confirmed, and the chicken's residual limb was about two inches from the proximal joint and bulbous. This bulbous distal end was ideal for a supracondylar-type suspension. A two-stage casting technique was used to capture the shape and size of the residual limb, and a supracondylar style socket with anterior opening was laminated.

The socket now com­plete, Jim's only real con­cern was "where can I buy a prosthetic chicken foot?" At once a vision came to Jim of his mentor, Rodger Wier, CP, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) prosthetic chief (ret.) from Huntington, West Virginia. Rodger always told him to look to the toy industry for innovative, outside-the-box, cutting-edge genius. Clinging to that thought, Jim found himself wandering the aisles of "Wally World."

In the Halloween aisle, he found it. The suitable replacement. The economic pumpkin carving set.

The pumpkin saw was used like a pipe, and the orange handle fit perfectly into the inside of the standard galvanized pipe used in the industry. The scooper, even though it looked more like a duck's foot, worked well as a chicken foot. The area where the scoop and handle merge was heated with a propane torch so that the angle of the dangle mimicked that of the chicken. A Silipos gel liner--the small ones used for fingers and toes--was placed on the chicken's residual limb as an interface.

After all the effort, what does Jim have to show for it?

Well, if this is not EGGSACTLY what one calls POULTRY IN MOTION, then what is?

Jim Young can be reached at Amputee Prosthetic Clinic, 802 East 20th Street, Tifton, GA 31794; 229.387.6600;