All photos © Courtesy of Bionic Pets
By Raye Mocioiu
Derrick Campana is one of ten people in the world who make prosthetics for animals—a fact that makes his impact all the more impressive.
The Virginia-based orthotist has saved and improved the lives of over 35,000 animals with his custom-made braces and artificial limbs. His practice, located in Sterling, Virginia, sends out casting kits to veterinarians and pet owners so they can cast moulds of their patients. Once the casting kits are returned, Campana crafts a personalized brace or prosthetic out of thermoplastic material—regardless of their species.
But despite Campana’s success, working in animal prosthetics was not his planned career path. After attending school to learn how to fit humans for orthotics and prosthetics, he quickly learned this was something he was good at. It wasn’t until 2004, when a veterinarian brought her dog, a black Labrador named Charles, into his office, that Campana discovered his true passion and changed the course of his future.
“I was doing the whole ‘human thing’…but a vet brought in her dog, who needed a prosthetic, to my human practice. I made a prosthetic that was a success, and I immediately knew that this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” Campana says.
He cast a mould of the dog’s leg and handcrafted an artificial limb from thermoplastics to help improve the mobility of the furry patient.
“He was running around, tail wagging, smiling…he just seemed so happy, and his owner was crying,” he recalled.
In the 15 years since that first dog, Campana’s client base has expanded exponentially; he’s built prosthetics for birds, horses, sheep, camels, gazelles, and even elephants.
Campana started Animal Ortho Care and has since founded Bionic Pets, the company he heads today. His goal is to help as many animals as possible, giving animals access to the treatment options that humans have available.
In 2018, a 30-year-old African bull elephant named Jabu stepped into a hole and injured his leg—a potentially life-threatening injury. An organization called Living With Elephants reached out to Campana after hearing about his incredible work with animal prosthetics. Campana was able to fit Jabu with a prosthetic carpel brace, allowing Jabu to walk properly again. He recalls that Jabu seemed to know what was going on and showed his appreciation and excitement through the joy in his eyes.
While Jabu was Campana’s biggest case physically, he shares that, often, the most challenging cases are with dogs—like Derby, a Husky mix 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’s pieces are made from medical-grade thermoplastics, which are less expensive and more modifiable than materials like carbon fibre—an important factor, as many pets are uninsured.
Above all, Campana shares that the most rewarding experience is seeing animals walk again for the first time.
“It’s the best feeling in the world, and you want to replicate that.”