In 2009 Oscar, a black cat from the Channel Island of Jersey, received bionic legs in this first groundbreaking feline operation in Britain. Where his paws once were, he now has two high-tech prosthetic implants. The surgical procedure that saved his life was so groundbreaking that he holds 2 Guinness World Records: one for being the first animal with 2 bionic leg implants and the other for being the first animal to receive implants into his moving joints.
Oscar and his sister were bought by Mike Nolan and his partner Kate Allan on the island of Jersey. In October 2009, the 2-and-a-half-year-old cat survived a horrific accident, when the ankles of his hind legs were severed by a combine harvester while in a maize field that surrounded his home. Fortunately, he managed to drag himself to a nearby road, where a kind lady found him and contacted Mike, who immediately took him to the veterinarian.
At the veterinary clinic he received emergency treatment, but had it not been for the attentions of the veterinarian, Dr Peter Haworth, Oscar might have been put to sleep. Dr Haworth knew about Dr Noel Fitzpatrick, a neuro-orthopaedic surgeon with a television programme on BBC, The Bionic Vet, and his work using implants to replace missing limbs on dogs. Operations are done on animals using his groundbreaking principle of One Medicine, a fusion of technologies advancing veterinary and human medicines in tandem. Kate remarked that they had to do a lot of soul-searching and their main concern has always been whether this operation would be in Oscar’s best interests and if it would give him a better quality of life.
Do or die
After Dr Fitzpatrick had examined Oscar’s x-rays, he agreed to the experimental operation. Eight months after the accident, on 13 November 2009, the prosthetic paws were successfully fitted. The 3-hour operation involved grafting the replacement legs onto the stumps of Oscar’s remaining bones. Dr Fitzpatrick said, “The real revolution is that we had to put a piece of metal and flange into which skin grows into an extremely tight bone.” The implants were custom-made to fit into holes drilled into Oscar’s ankle bones. They are known as intraosseous transcutaneous amputation prosthetics (ITAPs) and are developed by the head of University College London’s Centre for Biomedical Engineering, Gordon Blunn and colleagues, and treated with hydroxyapatite, a substance that stimulates the growth of bone and skin on the prosthesis itself. It has a honeycomb structure enabling skin to bond with the implant to prevent infection. The implants are placed into the drilled holes, which then allow for a ‘sock’ to be fitted over them. This technique has already been used very successfully with humans and is the best way to regain a normal life.
The insertion of the titanium prostheses was very delicate because of the small size of the bones of cats. Recovery was a slow process, but by April Oscar walked around steady and almost normally. Two years after the accident it was finally time for Oscar to return home. The treatment cost an estimated £50,000 (the first £4,000 was covered by Kate’s pet insurance, with the balance paid by the surgical and prosthetic staff in return for the publicity surrounding the case). Oscar has since resumed jumping, running around, chasing and catching rodents and sleeping on the laps of his devoted family. Kate wrote Oscar’s autobiography, Oscar the Bionic Cat, which was published in 2013 by Summersdale Publishers.
Text: Yolanda Wessels
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This article first appeared in the June 2014 issue of Animaltalk magazine. Visit Coolmags.com for subscription information.