By Teresa K. Traverse
Derrick Campana’s official title is animal orthotist, but it might as well be magician. Campana creates braces and artificial limbs to increase animals’ mobility and drastically improve their lives.
His practice, Animal Ortho Care, located in Sterling, Virginia, ships out kits all over the world to help veterinarians and pet owners cast molds of their patients or pets. The casting kits are then returned to Campana’s office so he can craft a personalized orthotic (a brace) or a prosthetic (an artificial limb) out of special thermoplastic material.
“If a dog gets his leg amputated, a lot of times [his] other joints will degenerate very quickly,” he says. “But when we put a prosthetic on, you can redistribute the weight back onto the amputated side and essentially give the dog a couple of added years of high-quality life.”
Even though he runs a thriving business today, Campana’s career working with animals started by accident. He went to school to learn how to fit humans for orthotics and prosthetics. But veterinarians would occasionally drop by his former workplace, and one day Campana stepped in to create a prosthetic limb for a Chocolate Lab named Charles. And from that one dog, his client base grew quickly.
Campana has treated a variety of cases in his six-year career in the animal orthotic industry. He created a Blade Runner-style prosthetic for a Pit Bull puppy who was nailed to a railroad track and lost his paw. He also helped a Husky mix named Derby who was born with a congenital deformity in his front legs. Campana used 3D printing and medical-grade plastics to craft specialized braces that helped Derby regain his mobility.
Campana estimates that his office ships out about 200 orthotics and prosthetics each month, and he works to educate veterinarians about how to perform amputations with prosthetics in mind. Campana explains that orthotics and prosthetics are sometimes a better option than surgery because they are often less risky and less expensive than surgical intervention. He says that braces for pets usually cost between $500 to $600, and prosthetics typically run anywhere from $800 to $1,200 on average.
And while the majority of Campana’s work focuses on treating dogs and cats at his Virginia-based practice, the animal orthotist has traveled to far-flung destinations to help animals in need. He’s worked with elephants in Thailand and even flew to Spain to treat a ram. In his career, Campana has created orthotics or prosthetics for gazelles, sheep, goats, and llamas.
“I'm always so excited about everything I do—from helping animals and developing new products to flying around the world and seeing different countries,” he says.
Campana considers seeing new parts of the world as a huge job perk, but he says the most rewarding part of his career will always be seeing animals walk again for the first time and watching their owners break down and cry.
“There's never a dull moment,” he says. “It's the best career in the world.”