STERLING, Va. – For 17 years Derrick Campana has been gifting the disabled with a new lease on life with braces, prosthetics and engineered equipment. But Campana’s clients have four legs, not two. And he never planned it that way.
Armed with a master’s degree in prosthetics and orthotics, Campana was perfectly happy serving his two-legged clientele. But one day a veterinarian walked into his clinic with black lab named Charlie. Charlie suffered from a congenital deformity to his front leg.
“She said, ‘My dog needs a prosthesis.’ And I kind of looked at her weird because I never saw a dog with a prosthesis,” he says.
“I had never heard of animal prosthetics. And I fit that dog, and I got such joy and fulfillment out of it, I started a company right away. That was about 17 years ago, and I've helped almost 30,000 patients to this point regain their mobility,” he says.
Charlie may have started it, but Campana is nonpartisan in his ministrations. “One day I’ll have an eagle leg or an owl or an elephant leg on my desk and the next day it’s a couple of dogs and a goat and a llama or a deer,” he says.
His most challenging job was building a custom wheelchair for a tortoise, he chuckles. “That was really fun. And I’ve done talons for eagles, owl legs, a leg for a crane, an elephant leg. I’m making four elephant legs in Thailand this summer.”
Viewers can watch this modern-day Hippocrates and his unpredictable patients on the TV series, “The Wizard of Paws,” now airing on BYU TV.
Campana travels the world fitting apparatuses for impaired animals. His company, Bionic Pets, manufactures a variety of mobility equipment. The website is www.bionicpets.org.
“The majority of the cases I treat I never see,” he says. “So we send out these Fiberglas casting kits all over the world and a lot of times the animal owner or veterinarian makes a cast of the animal, and it’s the first time they’ve made a cast, and a lot of time we get not the best cast,” he smiles.
“And we have to take this mold and turn it into something that’s going to help the animal. . . Doing it by mail and helping animals in that way can be really, really difficult -- that’s why there are so few of us who do that.”