Oscar the cat’s hind paws were lost when they were chopped off by a combine harvester while he was sunbathing last October. The two year-old cat has been given a pair of artificial feet in a single surgical procedure, something which has never been done before by any team anywhere in the world, by neuro-orthopedic surgeon Noel Fitzpatrick and his team at Fitzpatrick Referrals in England. Following the accident, Oscar’s life-threatening injuries had to be treated before he was considered for surgery to fit prosthetic limbs.
"We had to do a lot of soul-searching and our main concern has always been whether this operation would be in Oscar’s best interests and would give him a better quality of life," explained Kate. Her husband Mike continues, "Through our own background reading, we were aware that this sort of procedure is cutting-edge and also has an impact on human medicine, so knowledge about the way that Oscar’s been treated can be carried over to human treatment going forward, so that’s good for everyone."
In a three-hour operation, the veterinary surgical team had to insert implants to "peg" the ankle to the foot by drilling into one of the ankle bones in each of the back legs. The artificial implants which are attached to the bone at an amputation site are coated with hydroxyapatite, which encourages bone cells to grow onto the metal. The skin then grows over the special umbrella at the end of the ITAP to form a resilient seal against bacteria and potentially fatal infections. The ITAP itself protrudes through the bone and skin, allowing the custom-built artificial paws to be securely attached. Full limb amputation is frequently the standard in cases of trauma victims such as Oscar, who have experienced irreversible vascular or neurological damage to limbs. While such procedures are common in both humans and animals, post-amputation complications still arise when stump-socket strap-on limbs are used.
Following successful surgery on 13th November 2009, the focus of the veterinary team has turned to the slow process of rehabilitation and helping Oscar to learn to walk again – firstly using external scaffolding anchored to the tibia for five weeks to protect the new implants until the ITAPs integrated into the bone and also the skin grew onto the ITAP. Remarkably Oscar was trying to stand within a day of the operation and despite some problems with infection that had to be overcome, in less than four months Oscar could stand and bear weight equally on all four limbs. He has since been fitted with a series of prototype new paws to ensure the best possible long term fit.
Picture courtesy Wild Productions Ltd.