stork (8)When you picture a stork, the first thing you probably think of are its long, slender, delicate legs. The tall waterfowl depend on those long legs for wading through the marshes and swamps where they hunt for fish, insects and frogs. A stork with an injured leg, therefore, is essentially unable to function. When rescuers found a stork tangled in ropes and threads out in the Latvian countryside, they weren’t sure how to help. Both of the bird’s legs were injured, particularly the right one, which was so badly mangled that the rescuers knew right away that he would never be able to survive in the wild again.

The poor stork was unable to walk or even stand normally, and while his caretakers tried to get him back on his feet through medical treatment and therapy, none of it was working. The bird was in a lot of pain, and amputation wasn’t an option, since it was unlikely that he would survive the stress of anesthesia and surgery. Another option occurred to them, however – if humans can be helped to walk with orthopedic devices, why not a stork?

The stork’s caretakers contacted Juris Klava, co-founder of 3D printer manufacturer Mass Portal, who was happy to help design an assistive device for the bird. While we’ve seen many 3D printed prosthetic devices for birds, this one was a particular challenge because of the nature of the stork’s legs. A cockatoo or other small bird might be able to strut around on nothing more complex than printed pegs, but the stork needed something that would support and mimic the function of his willowy legs and delicate joints.

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stork (12) After measuring the stork’s legs, Klava and his team settled on NinjaFlex to print the devices, as it would be strong enough to support the bird’s weight and flexible enough to allow him to move naturally. Because of the complexity of the devices, several designs had to be printed and modified before they came up with a set of braces that would enclose and support the stork’s legs. A flexible, open area allows him to bend his knees, while a clawlike design at the end protects and supports his feet.

The bright orange braces, which are somewhat reminiscent of Big Bird’s legs, were carefully fitted to the stork, and he is adjusting nicely. He can’t yet move around as easily as he would with undamaged legs, but he is able to put weight on his injured feet and keep his balance without much pain. He’s standing and walking more than he was, resting one leg at a time while letting his braces handle his weight. He looks a bit like the Forrest Gump of birds with his cagelike leg braces, and while he may never get to the point where he doesn’t need them, he’ll be able to live a relatively normal and pain-free life.

“He still depends on his caretakers for survival, but he has (been) given a second chance,” says Ance Betina, Public Relations Specialist for Mass Portal. “We can do more today for the well-being of non-human species than ever before.”

It’s so true, and it always makes me incredibly happy to read about how many people are willing to put their minds and resources together to save the life or ease the pain of an injured animal, no matter how much time and effort it takes. With all the cruelty we hear about every day, we can never have too many reminders that there’s so much kindness, too. What do you think of this stork’s new lease on life? Discuss in the Stork’s 3D Printed Leg Braces forum over at 3DPB.com.

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