Irish vet Noel Fitzpatrick, from Mountmellick, County Laois, performed the first operation successfully fitting two bionic back paws to a very lucky black cat, Oscar. This is the first surgery of its kind in the world.
The Surrey, Britain-based neuro-orthopaedic surgeon believes that the technology, which is still fine-tuned, could be used on humans.
“The technology will act as a model for human amputees in the future and provide hope for people without feet or hands,” said Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick is the main focus of a new BBC show “The Bionic Vet." The series follows the story of Fitzpatrick as he uses cutting edge technology to save animals. Oscar is the first star in the series.
The ground-breaking surgeon revealed that he decided he wanted to be a vet when he was a young boy. He failed to save a baby lamb on his family farm and decided that this was the job for him.
This science-fiction-like tale of Oscar began nine months ago when the cat was involved in horrific accident with a combine harvester. His two back paws were severed, and he lost a huge amount of blood.
His owner, from Jersey, said “He was out in the corn fields. He was found by a neighbor. He had no back feet left it was horrific. There was blood everywhere. Bits of his skin were hanging off.”
Sadly cats, generally, do not survive with only two legs. Oscar’s chances looked grim until their vet referred them to Fitzpatrick.
Once Fitzpatrick has assessed Oscar’s condition he matter-of-factly said “We will have to put new feet on him or put him to sleep. The procedure has never been done before.”
The operation took three hours. In a new surgery method called ITAP, he drilled holes into the cat’s legs and inserted metal rods into the ankle bones allowing the prosthetic paws to be attached.
Oscar’s new legs are similar to those of the Paralympics champion Oscar Pistorius’s “blade runner” prosthesis. They will allow the cat to walk, climb and run. However, Oscar will now have to content himself to being a house-cat.
The first episode also follows the story of Mayo, a dog who was suffering from crippling arthritis. Along the lines of the character Wolverine, from “X Men”, Fitzpatrick fitting metal rods into the dogs paws to ease the pain.
Though Fitzpatrick admits that he has become a last hope for desperate pet owners, he also realizes that he has a responsibility toward the animals.
“I know where to draw the line. Animals are sentient creatures, with needs and wants. Doing a procedure just because it can be done is not ethical. I’ll only do it if the perceived outcome improves the animal’s quality of life,” said Fitzpatrick.