Sussex Tech students developing prosthetic leg for cat

Vernon. Two students at Sussex County Tehnical School working to complete a prosthesis for a cat with three legs, owned by classmate Connor Minteer. The cat - Jilly May - had a leg amputated due to cancer.

Vernon /
03 Feb 2020 | 01:48

Two Sussex Tech Engineering students are developing a prosthetic leg for a three-legged cat named Jilly-May.

By June, Julia Ragno and Krystian Kipp hope to complete the animal prosthesis for their Senior Project.

Laura Lai-Minteer said Jilly-May has one amputated leg due to cancer.

Vernon Veterinary Clinic Doctor Scott Gaydos recently helped the students measure Jilly-May and gave them advice about animal prosthesis and cat pressure points. Gaydos also provided his exam room, Vet Tech, and advice free of charge.

Kipp said the measurements and insight from Gaydos will help them get the right size and better design the prosthetic.

Gaydos said the students took the measurements – he just showed them what to measure. In addition, he gave credit for his insights to a program called “Super Vet,” regarding a veterinarian in Canada. He said the “Super Vet” does some of the most amazing veterinarian surgeries he has seen.

Ragno said the project is important for them, not only because it is something for school, but also because they are helping a friend, Connor Minteer, through doing something they love.

In the future, Ragno would like to study bio-medical engineering, and Kipp would like to become a nurse.

Ragno and Kipp said while they were developing Senior Project ideas, the animal prosthetic idea was discussed during their Sussex Tech Engineering class with Engineering teacher Christopher Land. Minteer said he had a cat with only three legs, so they decided to make the prosthetic leg for Jilly-May.

Gaydos said he saw a passion or gleam in the students’ eyes as they talked about potentially helping the cat – something which cannot speak. He said it is the same reason someone gets involved in veterinarian medicine.

Their Senior Project, Kipp said, will mimic a cat leg as closely as possible, by using a spring hydraulic to emulate Jilly-May’s missing knee. Because her entire left hind leg is missing, he said, they will attach the prosthesis to the cat through a harness, which is “trickier” than a front leg. He explained the back leg has more joints than the front leg: the hip joint, attached to the rear of the cat, the knee joint, attached where the tibia and the fibula meet, and an ankle joint, attached to the paw.

Furthermore, he said, they hope to attach the hydraulics to a simple carbon fiber rod, mimicking the cat’s bones as much as possible. He also said they are working on smaller ideas, such as silicone pads to mimic her paw, and if they have time for testing, they could possibly put fur on the prosthesis, for comfort and to prevent the cat from nipping the mechanics.

Now, Kipp said, they are in the middle of designing the hydraulics and getting the measurements exact, so they can start manufacturing and making prototypes. He said they took their idea from engineers who live in Europe and developed a knee prosthesis for humans. Although, they want to mimic the European prosthesis, a human knee goes forward, while a cat’s knee moves backwards. Thus, he said, they have to engineer their prosthesis backwards.

Ragno and Kipp said they use a program called Siemen NX, where they model and design 3D molds on the computer and test. Kipp said they then can move their prosthesis from the program to Sussex Tech shop machines, where they will make hydraulic molds and a prototype out of a 3D printer. He added, they just got new, stretchier fibers which will allow the prototype to mimic how the hydraulics will move with the actual cat, before they move on to more advanced materials like carbon fiber and aluminum.

This type of animal mimicry – prosthesis – Kipp commented, has never been done before. Additionally, he said, as a couple of high school students possibly developing something small for their senior project, they then realized how big it could potentially be if everything works out.

Kipp concluded that if it works out, he is “hoping to make Jilly-May very happy.”