Penn State Alum’s Startup Crafting Custom Prosthetics For Animals In Need
For as long as he can remember, Penn State alum Derrick Campana has loved nothing more than helping animals in need.
However, he knows some animals need more care than others. They can be born without limbs, deal with severe injuries that require amputation, or face the unfortunate side effects of old age. Fortunately, that’s where Campana’s startup, Bionic Pets, comes in.
Bionic Pets is an organization that creates prosthetics and braces for many kinds of animals. It ships casting molds all across the world and then makes the prosthetic legs or braces at its location in Sterling, Virginia.
Campana’s vision for Bionic Pets came to him when he was at a human prosthetic office in 2004. It was there that a veterinarian brought in a black Labrador named Charles and asked him to see if he could do anything for the dog, who was in need of a prosthetic leg.
“Charles had a congenital deformity or a birth defect, and my boss was supposed to see that patient that day, however, he quit that day. So, the vet was sitting in the waiting room for like three hours and I said ‘I guess I can try to help your dog,'” Campana said. “And I did, which made me feel very happy. The joy that I got from fitting and helping an animal made me start Googling right away to see that no one was doing this.”
That first company Campana started was sold, but that didn’t stop him from achieving his dream of helping animals. That initial jump in 2004 allowed him to create Bionic Pets in 2015, where he still works today.
Campana’s goal with Bionic Pets is to provide animals with the same care that people have at a lower cost. There are a lot of expenses to being a pet owner. In his mind, it’s a tragedy that braces or a prosthetics break the bank more often than not.
“Prosthetics, braces, wheelchairs, any type of mobility device, I want everybody to be able to afford these devices worldwide,” Campana added.
When making a prosthetic for an animal, Bionic Pets will send out a casting kit or fit the animal for a cast in-person. Then, the organization will take that cast and make a mold, which Campana sculpts himself. It will then take plastic and smooth them over the mold and then add joints to make the prosthetic moveable. Finally, Bionic Pets either mails out the prosthetic or the patient will come to its office for a fitting.
Campan’s journey wasn’t one without hardships, though.
“We send casting kits all over the world and a lot of the times these are everyday people who are just casting their dog for the first time. So, we get all of these crappy casts in the mail, and we have to turn it into something that works for their pet,” Campana said. “In human prosthetics, we see every patient physically and I would take the cast myself. Since there isn’t a lot of [animal prosthetic creators] in the world, we have to cover the world to help all of the pets in need.”
Another challenge is keeping costs down. For Campana, who wants his product to be affordable to all who need it, this is an extremely important issue. He can’t charge the same as he would for human surgery and the corresponding prosthetics, so finding the right balance is key.
As Campana focuses on the future, he wants to continue his mission of making prosthetics affordable but recognizes some people will still face the challenge of meeting that cost. To aid this, he is in the process of creating a nonprofit called the Bionic Barn.
“The Bionic Barn is for people who can’t afford these devices, and the goal is to get people to donate money and have it be a general fund where we can help pets and owners that can’t afford these things,” Campana said.
And while the Bionic Barn isn’t up and running yet, Campana knows it is an important step to allow for pet owners to give their pet the best treatment possible. Above all else, Campana wants to continue giving pets the best treatment possible, which keeps him coming back for more each day.
“I love building the prosthetics, but putting the device on the animal for the first time and watching them walk, whether it be for the first time or for the first time in a while, and seeing the reactions of the owners getting their family member back is the favorite part for me.”
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