Tortoise makes veterinary history with prosthetic legs, giving him a second chance at life

Tortoise makes veterinary history with prosthetic legs, giving him a second chance at life

LONG BEACH, Miss. (WLOX) - After a lucky chain of events, Spike the tortoise went from struggling to stay alive to getting a second chance at life all thanks to a South Mississippi veterinarian, and he’s making history along the way.

“I like to consider myself the Captain Kirk of veterinary medicine," said Dr. James Askew. “To go someplace no man has gone before.”

In this case, Dr. Askew did go somewhere no man has. He successfully created and attached a prosthetic leg for Spike, a tortoise who has been living with only two legs for months.

“He’s been in pain for a long, long time,” said Dr. Askew.

The Gulfport veterinarian, who treats many different types of animals, believes Spike was living without his front two legs for at least six months before being found and brought to him couple of weeks ago.

Spike the tortoise received a custom prosthetic for one of his legs. Now, Dr. Askew is looking for design ideas for a prosthetic for Spike's right leg.
Spike the tortoise received a custom prosthetic for one of his legs. Now, Dr. Askew is looking for design ideas for a prosthetic for Spike's right leg.

“What some of the carnivorous [animals] in this area like to do is when a turtle brings its legs out, they’ll snatch that leg and give it a quick yank,” Askew said. “They get free food while the tortoise is laying near bleeding to death.”

But that wasn’t the end for Spike. Last week with the help of Animal Care Hospital in Long Beach, Askew performed a four-hour surgery to help the tortoise move freely again.

Now, Spike has multiple feet to choose from. Different foot attachments are configured for whatever terrain Spike might encounter.

“One is built so if he uses it, it will go down and walk underneath him. Another one is built flat, so he can have something to stand on,” the veterinarian explained.

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While Spike needs to get stronger to actually use the attachments to walk, he’s already making progress.

“He’s pretty much figured out his bearings already," said Dr. Askew. “Before, it was really jerky with one movement at a time. Now, he pretty much pushes his foot and skates. He’s been a great adaptable creature.”

In other cases where turtles have lost limbs, wheels have been attached to them to help them move. But Spike is the first tortoise to receive a trans-radial and trans-ulnar endoprosthesis, making veterinary medical history.

“If we turn him into the model that I’d like him to be, then turtles forever will be benefiting from the technology that went into this guy,” he said.

In the meantime, Dr. Askew will keep a close eye on Spike to make sure everything works like it should. If all goes well, the veterinarian is optimistic that Spike has a long life ahead of him.

“With the right care and the right environment, this guy can live another 20 years,” Askew said.

Dr. Askew said Spike will probably live with him and his girlfriend for a while. He’s also looking for suggestions for different foot designs that can be used.

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