Prostheses for Pachyderm Landmine Survivors

by Kathryn Jackson [ Center for International Rehabilitation ]


The staff of the Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital in Thailand use the CIR Casting System to create a prosthesis for Mosha.
All photos courtesy of the author

Many times the only landmine survivors considered candidates for prostheses are humans; however, there are also pachyderm victims in need of assistance. Along the Thai-Burmese border, a heavily mined area, elephants that are used for logging, as well as wild elephants, often fall victim to landmines. Lacking other options and unable to care for the animals in this condition, their caretakers frequently opt to end the animals’ lives.

Per the 2004 Landmine Monitor Report,1 in Burma and Thailand it is not uncommon for both domestic and wild animals—including buffalo, wild pigs and dogs, and tigers—to fall victim to landmines. Reports indicate that landmines along the Bangladesh–Burma border have killed at least 26 elephants, and up to 90 have been killed or injured along the Thailand-Burma (Myanmar) border. Though the staff of the Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital in Thailand2 has treated nine survivors, many more die each year. However, thanks to the CIR Casting System developed by the team led by Dr. Yeongchi Wu at the Center for International Rehabilitation,3,4 one young elephant is now able to walk again and hopefully more will be able to do so soon.


Mosha enjoys a walk with her new prosthesis and Dr. Therdchai Jivacate of Thailand’s Prostheses Foundation.
All photos courtesy of author

Much like 47-year-old Motala,5 the Thai elephant that made headlines when he was fitted with a prosthesis after losing his leg in 1999, Mosha, a 31-month-old Thai elephant, has been given a new leg and an opportunity to move past the trauma of her injury. Mosha’s right forelimb was severed in a landmine blast two years ago along the Thai-Burmese border when she was only seven months old.5 Unlike Motala, who was fitted temporarily with a sawdust-filled canvas bag before being fitted with a permanent prosthesis,6 Mosha was fitted using the CIR Casting System, providing her with a properly fitted prosthetic in a very short period of time. Mosha was fitted with her prosthesis at the Elephant Hospital of the Thai Elephant Conservation Center.7

The CIR system replaces traditional plaster-of-Paris bandages with a specially made fabric casting bag filled with polystyrene beads. By placing the casting bag around the residual limb, a negative mold is formed once vacuum suction is applied. The mold can then be removed and used to create a final prosthesis quickly and easily. The technique was developed with funding from the National Institute on Disability Rehabilitation Research for the CIR’s Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on improved technology access for landmine survivors. The fabrication method was taught at a World Health Organization-sponsored technology-transfer workshop at the Srindhorn National Rehabilitation Center in Bangkok, Thailand, in March 2007. After attending the workshop, Dr. Therdchai Jivacate, the Secretary-General of Thailand’s Prostheses Foundation and recipient of the 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Award,8 applied a modified version of the system to Mosha.9

The CIR Casting System has been used for several years to create high-quality, low-cost prostheses for human landmine survivors and other people with below-knee amputation. Now, Dr. Wu hopes that using the casting system to craft prostheses may be a viable alternative to destroying animals like elephants injured by landmines. He also thinks the system might work for racehorses if their thin, spindly legs break.

Biography

Kathryn Jackson is a Grant Writer at the Center for International Rehabilitation. Jackson previously volunteered at the Columbus AIDS Task Force in Columbus, Ohio, where she participated in training and education programs, and outreach. She has a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor.


Endnotes

  1. Landmine Monitor Report. 2004 report on Burma. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2004/burma. Accessed 2 February 2009.
  2. The Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital; Lampang, Thailand. http://www.elephants-soraida.com/. Accessed 2 February 2009.
  3. The Center for International Rehabilitation is a not-for-profit organization that develops rehabilitation programs to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Based in Chicago, with programs in some of the poorest nations on earth, the CIR operates in collaboration with the renowned Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and Northwestern University. The CIR conducts fieldwork, research, training, and education around the globe. More information can be found at http://www.cirnetwork.org/. Accessed 4 February 2009.
  4. Stanton, Mary and Kim D. Reisinger. Journal of Mine Action, “Survivor Assistance through Technology Transfer in Tanzania.” 3 August 2006. http://www.jmu.edu/cisr/journal/10.1/focus/stanton/stanton.shtml. Accessed 22 June 2009.
  5. Sukai, Somsak. “Finding Her Feet,” Bangkok Post. http://www.bangkokpost.com/280608_News/28Jun2008_news93.php. Accessed 2 February 2009.
  6. BBC News. “New leg for wounded Thai elephant.” Monday, August 29, 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4193798.stm. Accessed 2 February 2009.
  7. The Friends of the Asian Elephant Foundation runs the Elephant Hospital. See note 2 for website information.
  8. Svasti, Pichaya. “The Medical Inventor.” Bangkok Post, Tuesday, September 16, 2008. http://www.bangkokpost.com/160908_Outlook/16Sep2008_out47.php. Accessed 2 February 2009.
  9. For more information about the process used to fabricate Mosha’s prosthesis, please see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fEP_s_inN8. Accessed 22 June 2009.

Contact Information

Kathryn Jackson
Grant Writer
The Center for International Rehabilitation
222 Merchandise Mart Plaza, Suite 1562
Chicago, IL 60654 / USA
Tel: +1 312 280 4970
E-mail: kjackson@cirnetwork.org