New 3D Printed Leg for Stumpy the Turtle

by Willy Matsiri on February 19, 2015

3D Printed Stumpy Turtle LegStumpy is a 12 year old little cute box turtle, whom due to a serious injury, had to have one of her front legs amputated in September last year.

In the past this would be the end of the line for a turtle such as stumpy.

She would have to find a way to cope with moving around on three legs which needless to say, would have been a great struggle for her.

However, 3D printing technology has proved to be instrumental even in areas you would not have thought possible. In Stumpy’s case, 3D printing was the only hope left for her walking on all fours again rather than having to struggle all her life moving on three limbs.

When Stumpy was first brought before Lesley Mailler, a veterinarian based at the Oatland Island Wildlife Center in Savannah-Georgia, she had a nasty infection in one of her front legs. The infection was so bad that Mailler was left with no other option that to amputate her leg. The surgery nonetheless left Mailler saddened by the unfortunate fate that had befallen Stumpy.

At this point Mailler remembered a photo she had once come across of a turtle with a Lego wheel prosthetic. It struck her that Stumpy could also use one of these to restore her usual life. Now as it so happens, Mailler’s daughter attends May Howard Elementary School in Georgia. What’s interesting was the school owns a 3D printer. As a result, Mailler decided she was going to ask the teachers and school administration to help her build a 3D printed leg for stumpy.

Excited about the whole idea, Mailler explained to the teachers of May Howard Elementary School what she would like them to do for her. There was a team of teachers and students who were ready to take on the project and see it through. Apparently, that is exactly what Stumpy needed – People who could believe in a second chance for her.

5th Graders Help Stumpy

Before kick starting on the project, the teachers at the school chose to select a team of six 5th grade students who would aid in creating the perfect 3D Printed Prosthetic design for Stumpy. The students were chosen basing on their interest and enthusiasm in 3D printing technology and care for the welfare of animals. The teacher heading the project was Reagan Dillon with the six students taking an active part in the project being Matthew Brimblecom, David Rickbroug, Emily Goldstein, Isabel Duke, Jake Gilluly and Kaylee Mailler.

Once the team had been formed Mailler went on to take the box turtle to the school so that all who were working on the project could get the opportunity to meet with Stumpy and visualize the prize they were working towards. This dedicated team of six students plus their teacher worked for 6 weeks purely on coming up with the ideal design that would enable Stumpy to walk normally again.

For them this meant allocating PE time, lunch hours and even putting in lots of after school hours on the project. There are several things that the team had to consider when designing the best prosthetic for Stumpy. First of all, it was of grave importance for the new leg to reach the bottom of Stumpy’s shell. Furthermore the leg had to be of just the required height off the ground to enable stumpy to balance properly on all fours and walk comfortably.

It was equally essential for all of them to keep in mind that the design they settled on should be one that did not interfere in any way with the hinge of Stumpy’s shell. It needed to allow Stumpy perfect mobility in all the possible directions so that even when the turtle retreats back to her shell as is normal, she would not experience any discomfort.

It was clear to the team that for this to be achieved, some trial and error would be inevitable until a befitting design would be reached at. All options that came to mind had to be explored as long as they provided a chance of Stumpy getting her mobility back. For this reason, the six students with the aid of Reagan printed out 15 varying models of the prosthetic wheel. The use of 3DTin Software came in handy when they were creating these designs.

Thereafter, the team looked at all the designs trying to figure out how each of them could be modified to absolute perfection. When they felt certain that they had found the best prosthetic for Stumpy, they quickly rushed to Oatland Veterinary Clinic to inform Mailler of the good news.

Mailler Polishing-up the Design

The first thing Mailler had to do to get Stumpy her new 3D printed prosthetic leg was to remove the stitches she had from the initial surgery. She then fitted the prosthetic to see how it turned out for Stumpy and whether it would really enable her to walk freely again. At first they noted that stumpy could not balance properly meaning that the height of the wheel was not ideal. It appeared too tall, a factor which made Mailler resort to remove the holster of the wheel and attach it directly to Stumpy.

Despite the fact that this appeared to solve the height challenge, there still was one problem left; the caster could not fit against the curved chest of Stumpy as was desired. Using a Dremel tool, the skilled vet sculpted off the plastic from the caster to ensure that it was properly aligned with the shell of the turtle. Mailler then used Gorilla glue to keep the Caster attached to Stumpy’s shell then gave it 10 minutes to dry of.

Immediately that was done with, the moment of truth had come. It was time to place Stumpy on the ground and determine whether all the work that was done for her to obtain the wheeled prosthetic leg was worth it. Well, Stumpy walked with good balance and ease clearly indicating that the project was a success.

More than that, the students and their teacher had learned a lot during this period. To the rest of the world, Stumpy getting her new 3D printed leg was yet more proof of how the technology can positively impact different aspects of our lives and our Natural Environment.

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