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Stumpy, The 3-Legged Turtle, Gets a 3D Printed Prosthetic Leg From 5th Grade Students

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t3It’s really incredible the impact that 3D printing has had on so many lives. We’ve seen 3D printed limbs created and customized for both humans and animals alike. Every day there seems to be yet another feel-good story sparked by the incredible capabilities of 3D printers.

Two week ago, the internet almost exploded, as the story of Derby, the dog who had been fitted with two 3D printed prosthetic legs, spread like wildfire. Here we are, headed towards the end of the year, a year filled with cute stories about animals and their 3D printed prostheses, and yet another incredible animal story has emerged.

This time a 12-year-old box turtle named Stumpy is the center of attention. Stumpy, who arrived at the Oatland Island Wildlife Center in Savannah, Georgia back in September, had a very bad injury to her front right leg. Veterinarian Lesley Mailler noticed a deep infection in the leg, and opted to amputate it right away. Although this saved Stumpy’s life, she now had an awful hard time getting around. Mailler wasn’t satisfied, and began researching possible prosthetic devices for Stumpy. She came across a Lego wheel prosthetic, which sparked an idea. Mailler, who has a daughter in 5th grade at May Howard Elementary in Savannah, remembered her recently mentioning a 3D printer which her class had been working with, so she decided to contact the school.

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Image: Brittney Lohmiller / Savannah Morning News

The school, who had several teachers very interested in science and technology, loved the idea of possibly designing and 3D printing out a prosthetic leg for the injured turtle, and decided to select six fifth grade students, who were interested in 3D printing and/or animals, to take part in the project. This included Mailler’s daughter Kaylee, along with Jake Gilluly, Matthew Brimblecom, David Richbourg, Isabel Duke and Emily Goldstein, who were instructed by Teacher Raegan Dillon.

First, the children learned about box turtles, their movements and their biology. Next it was time to design a leg which would be comfortable as well as provide the needed support so that Stumpy could crawl like a normal turtle should.

The team had their work cut out for them. The leg had to fit just right,  providing just the right height so that Stumpy’s plastron (the bottom of her shell) would remain off the ground, while being short enough so that the other legs would be able to work in unison with the prosthetic. The leg also had to blend with her biological features, such as the hinge where the plastron bends when she enters her shell.

Oatland Island Wildlife Center

Oatland Island Wildlife Center

“You don’t want it to be too high so the other foot can’t work,” said Isabel Duke, holding a ruler up to Stumpy.

After much thought and lots of time spent after school and during their usual lunch breaks, the students finally agreed on the main design. It would feature a ball caster, designed to have a ball encaged within a four-pronged system. The ball would roll and act as a wheel while Stumpy’s other legs did all the work.

Using an online 3D modeling web application called 3DTin, the students set out to create Stumpy’s new leg. After 15 prototypes and over a month of research and designing, the students had finally 3D printed out the final version of the leg. Mailler, excited about what they had come up with, invited the six students to Oatland’s veterinary clinic to watch as she proceeded to attach their prosthetic leg to Stumpy’s stump.

Initially, the prosthesis was too tall, so Mailler had to get rid of a holster that the students had made to hold the prosthetic leg in place, and instead directly attach the ball caster to Stumpy’s body. An additional problem also arose, in that Stumpy’s chest is slightly curved, while the base of the prosthesis was perfectly flat. Mailler pulled out a rotary tool, quickly sculpted out a perfect fit, and then attached the prosthetic leg to the turtle’s body.

The leg worked! Stumpy can now get around without much of an effort, and although she may be slightly slanted to the left as she walks, the leg works great. The students are not done yet though, as they intend to perfect the 3D printed prosthesis in the new year. If all goes well, Stumpy could live another 20-30 years in captivity with the ability to walk the way all turtles should.

Let’s hear your thoughts on yet another amazing use of 3D printing to make the life of an animal more fulfilling. Discuss in the 3D Printed Turtle Prothetic Leg forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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