Over the past three decades, Ara Mirzayan has fitted braces for everyone from Paralympians to children with scoliosis. But Msetoni was sick like no other – a newborn giraffe.
The calf was born on February 1 at the San Diego Safari Park Zoo in Escondido, north of San Diego, with its front end bent in the wrong direction. Safari park staff feared she could die if they didn’t correct the condition promptly, which could prevent her from feeding and wandering back home.
But they had no experience putting a baby giraffe into the stent. This proved to be a particular challenge since she was a new baby girl who was 5 feet 10 inches (178 cm) tall and was getting taller every day. So, they reached out to the orthopedic experts at the Hanger Clinic, where Mirzayan reached out to his first animal patient.
“It was so surreal when I first heard about it,” Mirzaian told The Associated Press this week during a tour to meet Mastoni, who has been strutting alongside other giraffes without any issues. “Of course, all I did was go online and study the giraffes 24/7 until we got out here.”
Zoos are increasingly turning to medical professionals who treat people to find solutions for sick animals. The collaboration was particularly useful in the field of prosthetics and orthotics. Earlier this year, ZooTampa in Florida teamed up with similar experts to 3D-print the beak of the cancer-stricken hornbill.
Team Hanger in California had a proper calendar for a cyclist and kicker who both went on to win medals at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Brazil and set aside two goals for a marathon runner with multiple sclerosis who raced on seven continents.
And in 2006, the Hanger team in Florida created a prosthetic limb for a bottlenose dolphin that had lost its tail after getting entangled in ropes from a crab trap. Their story inspired the 2011 movie “Dolphin Tale.”
But that was an obvious learning curve for everyone, including Matt Kenny, a senior veterinarian at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance in charge of Msituni’s case.
“We usually put on splints and dressings and stuff. But something that wide, like this brace that was provided for it, we really had to turn to our human (medical) colleagues for it,” Kenny said.
Mrs. Macitoni suffered from wrist hyperextension – the bones of the wrist joint in the giraffes’ front limbs, which look a lot like the arms. When she overcompensated, the second front end began to overextend as well. Her hind leg joints were also weak but she was able to correct them with specialized hoof expanders.
Given that she weighed more than 100 pounds (55 kilograms) at birth, this abnormality was already affecting her joints and bones.
While building the custom braces, Kenny first bought a postoperative knee brace at Target which he cut and re-sewed, but they kept slipping. Msetoni then wore medical braces for humans that were modified to fit her long legs. But in the end, Msetoni broke one of them.
For custom braces to work, they would need a range of motion but were sturdy, so Hanger worked with a company that made horse orthotics.
Using casting molds for the giraffe’s legs, it took eight days to make the carbon-graphite supports that featured the animal’s distinct pattern of twisted spots to match its fur.
“We wear the giraffe pattern just to make it fun,” Merzaian said. “We do this with kids all the time. They can choose their favorite superhero or team and have it printed on their props. So why not do it with a giraffe?”
In the end, Msetoni only needed one brace. The other leg corrects itself with a medical brace.
When they put her under the custom brace, her beauty was greatly affected by the beauty of the animal, and he hugged her.
“It was amazing to see such a big and beautiful creature lying there in front of me,” he said.
After 10 days in the custom brace, the problem was corrected.
Finally, she was on orthodontics for 39 days from the day she was born. I stayed at the animal hospital the whole time. After that, she slowly got to know her mother and the others in the herd. Her mother never took her back, but another giraffe adopted her, so to speak, and now she runs like other giraffes.
Mirzayan hopes to hang a picture of the baby giraffe in a patterned bracket so that the children he treats will be inspired to dress their children.
“It was the most wonderful thing to see an animal like this walking in a pillar,” he said. “It’s good to know we saved a giraffe’s life.”
A zoo in western France has welcomed a new baby to the giraffe family, after another calf was born in January.