Wednesday, December 24, 2014

An Amputee Donkey in Egypt Walks Again--on a Recycled Artificial Human Leg

Donkeys figure quite prominently in the original Christmas story, so why not have one star on the Hoof Blog on Christmas Eve? Hector the Egyptian donkey is making news around the world this Christmas, and bringing smiles to faces wherever his story is told or read.

While people think that it is Hector who is making them smile, it is really the story of the humans who came together to help him and change his life that made those smiles happen.

Like so many welfare cases, little is known about Hector's background. He was a tiny donkey found by the Animal Welfare of Luxor ("AWOL") center in Luxor, Egypt in January. He was lying down because he was missing one of his hind feet. Standing up was a wobbly proposition for the little guy.

Facebook readers may know the AWOL page; it is run for AWOL by Angela Robinson in Great Britain.

This is the stump of Hector's left hind leg. 

"He was abandoned outside the AWOL medical center on Luxor’s west bank in February this year," Angela wrote to Hoofcare Publishing. "One of his rear hooves was completely missing. It was obviously a recent injury, as it was still bleeding. 

"We do not know how it happened but as people in Luxor sometimes use wire to tether donkeys by the foot it is possible this was the cause."

In spite of his lameness and locomotion limitations, he was described as quite content with his lot in life. Hector's friends at AWOL were determined that he would be helped. They felt they must find a way to obtain an artificial foot for his little leg.

On behalf of Hector, Angela contacted Professor Derek Knottenbelt, OBE, at the University of Liverpool School of Veterinary Science in England. A native of Zimbabwe, Derek is active in fundraising and veterinary outreach work in Africa through organizations like SPANA and the Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust.

His "Vets with Horse Power" fundraisers use the publicity of a roster of well-known equine veterinary speakers on tour. They travel not by business class on jets, but on their Harley Davidsons, and have toured all over Europe and all the way to Africa. The program has raised 350,000 Euros. They recently rode from the UK to Russia, lecturing to vets all along the route.

When consulting on Hector's needs, Derek suggested contacting his colleague Georgie Hollis, a human podiatrist and founder of Intelligent Wound Care and the innovative Veterinary Wound Library, where he is a consultant.

Georgie then turned to a unique and very interesting British charity, Legs4Africa, which collects non-functioning, sample, or "medical waste" limbs and transports them to Africa, where they can be refitted to help amputees who are in dire need.

Prosthetic limbs cannot be reused in European countries, as they fall under the EU's medical waste laws regulations. Apparently it is permitted to donate them to charity; in the past year, Legs4Africa has collected a total of 1,000 prosthetic limbs for use in The Gambia. Once the limbs are collected, Legs4Africa goes through a process of

Consider this: in Gambia, where diabetes is a major health problem and human limb amputation is common, the cost of a prosthetic human limb is about 350 British pounds (US$545). The average annual wage in that country is 250 British pounds. The problem is compounded by social stigmas surrounding amputees and the belief that such a handicap is some sort of divine sign. An estimated 12 millions people in Africa suffer from diabetes.

Legs4Africa estimates that about 15,000 human prostheses are discarded in the United Kingdom alone each year because of the medical waste regulations. They are considered a biohazard, according to the organization, and hospitals even have to pay to dispose of them.

Georgie felt she could adapt a human limb to fit the little donkey. Legs4Africa was intrigued by Hector's unique needs and supplied a limb. Georgie adapted the leg with a leather boot.

Tom Williams, founder of Legs4Africa, sent this statement to Hoofcare Publishing: "We send (collected artificial limbs) to part of West Africa where they help some of the world’s poorest amputees. Legs4Africa was happy to donate the components for Georgie to build Hector’s new hoof, the first non-human the charity has helped back to its feet."

Angela Robinson transported the boot/limb herself all the way to Hector in Egypt after Georgie adapted it. With the limb on, Hector could walk around the yard for the first time in four months.

The boot and limb are not a perfect solution for Hector. It was adapted in Egypt. Georgie hopes to make a personal visit to Luxor next year to personally fit him with a device that will work better.

“Thank you Legs4Africa for contributing to that learning process and supporting (literally!) Hector. A true Christmas Donkey!” Georgie said in a message.

But Hector is able to support himself and walk.  An update this month reports, "At the moment he is having time both with and without the prosthetic to overcome the problems of breathability of the foot in the high temperatures in Luxor. He can now be exercised on four feet to build up his leg muscles and help keep his spine straight."

We see enough amputations and prostheses in the horse world so that this is no longer a medical "miracle" but perhaps it is a human miracle that so many people and organizations in so many places could cooperate and donate their time, expertise and services to help a donkey in a place where almost any recovery is a miracle.

Does anyone know what happens to the custom-made prosthetic limbs for horses that have been used around the world? Is there a way for them to be re-fitted and re-used, perhaps by animals in need?

Hector is one in a million to have been chosen to receive advanced care through the cooperation of human medical, veterinary and animal welfare charities. Before he landed in AWOL's hands, his odds were a million to one. With his friends in high places, Hector the donkey is on his way to inspiring more people to help more animals. 

To learn more:

Animal Welfare of Luxor (AWOL)
AWOL Egypt Newsletter 2014
Intelligent Wound Care
Veterinary Wound Library
Vets with Horse Power CPD

Special thanks to Tom Williams, founder of Limbs4Africa, and Angela Robinson of AWOL for their personal help with this article and to Derek Knottenbelt, for continuing to do the sorts of things that inspire Hoofcare Publishing to keep the office lights on late at night, even on Christmas Eve. Stories like this are worth it. Merry Christmas, everyone!

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