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Baby giraffe strapped up in custom braces due to wonky legs that make it hard to walk


A baby giraffe born with leg abnormalities is now walking on air thanks to a team of doctors at the San Diego Zoo, who’ve fitted the animal with leg braces that allow her to move freely for the first time.

Three-month-old Msituni – a name that means ‘in the forest’ in Swahili – was born February 1 at the zoo’s Safari Park, stricken with a genetic disorder that affected the young animal’s front legs.

The condition, called carpal hypertension, caused the giraffe’s front legs to bend improperly, making it near impossible for her to stand and walk due to the pressure being put on her joints and bones. 

Subsequently, Safari Park staff grew concerned that the newborn calf could die if they did not immediately correct the condition, which hindered the animal from nursing and walking around the habitat.

Msituni was 5-foot-10 at birth, and growing fast – creating a sense of urgency for the worried workers. 

Three-month-old Msituni, who born with leg abnormalities that left her unable to walk or even stand up, is now walking on air thanks to a team of doctors at the San Diego Zoo, who’ve fitted the animal with leg braces that allow her to move freely for the first time.

The brace, crafted by Mirzaian's Hanger Clinic, is comprised with custom-molded carbon graphite orthotic, and uses cast moldings of the calf’s legs to fit the animal comfortably

The brace, crafted by Mirzaian’s Hanger Clinic, is comprised with custom-molded carbon graphite orthotic, and uses cast moldings of the calf’s legs to fit the animal comfortably

The finished product has proved to be a success, the zoo says, with Msituni now able to walk without any difficulty

The finished product has proved to be a success, the zoo says, with Msituni now able to walk without any difficulty

The dire nature of Msituni’s situation soon spurred zoo officials to call in aid from a team of experts to treat the giraffe – including clinician Ara Mirzaian, an orthotist who has fitted braces for Paralympians and children with scoliosis.

However, the doctor – who exclusively works on humans – had never fitted an animal for such an apparatus, let alone a newborn giraffe.

That task proved sufficiently challenging for Mirzaian, who has been fitting patients with braces for the past 30 years.

‘It was pretty surreal when I first heard about it,’ Mirzaian told the Associated Press last week where people from the outlet were able to meet a fully braced Msituni, who was seen strutting alongside the other giraffes with a renewed pep in her step.

The brace, crafted by Mirzaian’s Hanger Clinic, is comprised with custom-molded carbon graphite orthotic, and uses cast moldings of the calf’s legs to fit the animal comfortably, Mirzaian said. 

The finished product has proved to be a success, the zoo says, with Msituni able to walk with the rest of her herd in the Safari Park’s 60-acre East Africa savanna habitat.

It has offered the animal, who weighed more than 100 pounds at birth, some much needed relief.

‘I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment,’ said Mirzaian, a certified orthotist. ‘I’ve never worked with wildlife before – it’s one of those things that is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and you just have to savor the moment.’

BEFORE: Msituni, who was 5-foot-10 at birth, suffers from carpal hypertension, causing the giraffe's front legs to bend improperly, making it near impossible for her to stand and walk

BEFORE: Msituni, who was 5-foot-10 at birth, suffers from carpal hypertension, causing the giraffe’s front legs to bend improperly, making it near impossible for her to stand and walk

Safari Park veterinarian Dr. Matt Kinney shared a similar sentiment this week, saying that the custom creation has given the animal a new lease on life.

‘We are so glad to have the resources and expertise to step in and provide this young calf the opportunity for a full life,’ Kinney said.

‘Without these lifesaving braces to provide support, the position of her legs would have become increasingly more painful and progressed to a point she would not have been able to overcome.’ 

The doctor added: ‘We commonly put on casts and bandages and stuff. But something that extensive, like this brace that she was provided, that’s something we really had to turn to our human [medicine] colleagues for.’  

That proved especially challenging given she was a 5-foot-10-inch-tall newborn and growing taller every day. 

The dire nature of Msituni's situation spurred zoo officials to call in aid from a team of experts to treat the giraffe - including clinician Ara Mirzaian (pictured), an orthotist who has fitted braces for Paralympians and children with scoliosis

The dire nature of Msituni’s situation spurred zoo officials to call in aid from a team of experts to treat the giraffe – including clinician Ara Mirzaian (pictured), an orthotist who has fitted braces for Paralympians and children with scoliosis

Also, in order for Msituni’s braces to prove effective, the devices needed to possess a wide range of motion, and needed to be durable and long-lasting. Hanger worked with a company that makes braces for horses when designing the device over the course of three months.

‘Of course, all I did was go online and study giraffes for like 24/7 until we got out here,’ Mirzaian added.

According to staffers at the Safari Park, Msituni is now doing well, seemingly taking to her new walking aids.

‘This was an important step in Msituni’s natural development,’ said Kristi Burtis, director of wildlife care at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. ‘As her bond grows with the herd, she will be able to learn behaviors and skills important to the development of a young giraffe.’

The situation harks back to the highly publicized plight of another handicapped animal, Winter the Dolphin, who was fitted with a prosthetic tail by workers at Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium in 2006, after losing hers in a crab trap.

The story was made famous in the 2011 film Dolphin Tale. 

Mirzaian's creation, which needed to possess a wide range of motion and needed to be durable and long-lasting to prove effective, allows the three-month old animal to walk and stand without bringing harm to her joints

Mirzaian’s creation, which needed to possess a wide range of motion and needed to be durable and long-lasting to prove effective, allows the three-month old animal to walk and stand without bringing harm to her joints

The custom prosthetic, which took three months to create, has given the animal a second chance at life, staffers say

The custom prosthetic, which took three months to create, has given the animal a second chance at life, staffers say

The prosthetic also gave the animal a second chance at life, with Winter living 16 years until passing away last November. 

And with scientists estimating that fewer than 100,000 giraffes are left in the wild, staffers at the San Diego Zoo are thrilled with Msituni’s new footwear.

‘The birth of every animal is a cherished event, and Msituni’s survival in the face of so much adversity makes it all the more remarkable,’ vet Kinney said. 

Mirzaian, meanwhile, says he plans to put up a picture in his office of the giraffe wearing the brace, so children he treats in the future don’t feel self-conscious getting fitted for similar devices.

‘It was the coolest thing to see an animal like that walk in a brace,’ he said. ‘It feels good to know we saved a giraffe’s life.’    

'It was the coolest thing to see an animal like that walk in a brace,' Mirzaian said. 'It feels good to know we saved a giraffe’s life.'

‘It was the coolest thing to see an animal like that walk in a brace,’ Mirzaian said. ‘It feels good to know we saved a giraffe’s life.’



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