Barney Mitchell Hand is anything but shy. The Great Pyrenees will shake your hand to greet you and, with his especially favorite friends, he will stand on his hind legs, rising to well over five feet tall, wrap his paws around your shoulders, and give you a hug. Like many dogs, Barney also enjoys long walks, running in the backyard, playing, and spreading out for a nap on his owner’s bed.
Yet, in September of 2007, none of this was possible for Barney. As a young puppy, Barney came up painfully lame. Barney’s regular veterinarian, Dr. Susan Lucas, immediately recommended that the Hands take Barney to the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University.
“He would barely get up to walk across a room or climb the stairs,” said Michelle Hand of Gillette, Wyoming, Barney’s owner. “He was so young and we were so heartbroken. We didn’t know what Barney’s life would be like.”
After examination and initial x-rays, Dr. Ross Palmer, an Associate Professor in the Department of Clinical, diagnosed Barney with a deformed thigh bone that was causing a painful dislocation of Barney’s kneecap.
While dislocating kneecaps aren’t that unusual in small breeds, Barney’s dislocating kneecap was complicated by his thigh bone conformation and his giant breed size and strength. Further complicating matters was Barney’s young age and the fact that his bones were still expected to grow.
In order to treat Barney and give him a chance at an active, normal life, Dr. Palmer recommended surgery that would correct the conformation of Barney’s thigh and stabilize his kneecap. Using state-of-the-art technology provided by ProtoMed, an Arvada biotechnology company, Dr. Palmer was able to get his hands on a model of Barney’s bones to practice and perfect what would happen in the operating room.
Using a process called stereolithography, Protomed was able to make exact 3-dimensional models of Barney’s deformed femur and normal femur from CT images. The models allowed Dr. Palmer to develop and practice Barney’s surgery, as well as make a custom-fitted support plate before the date of Barney’s actual procedure.
“It gave me the opportunity to take the bone model and manipulate it so that it looked just like Barney’s other normal leg,” said Palmer, who also is an affiliate faculty member in the School of Bioengineering. “The procedure involved removal of a wedge section from the middle of the bone shaft to correct the deformity. On the model, I was able to work without having my vision obscured by surrounding muscles and tendons until I got the correction just right. I stabilized the newly aligned bone by spanning the cut in the bone with a stainless steel plate precisely fit to its corrected contour.
“For Barney's actual surgery, it was like déjà vu. I had a perfectly-fitted metal plate from the model, which was removed from the model and sterilized and used to hold Barney's newly aligned bone together until it healed. The rehearsal surgery added precision to the procedure and saved Barney from a little additional surgical time.”
The surgery gave Barney a quality of life once not thought possible. Dr. Palmer said that while his group's published long-term, follow-up study on such cases showed dramatic and consistent restoration of life quality, many more questions need to be answered. He hopes the findings will continue to improve treatments for dogs like Barney. As for the Hand family, they couldn’t be happier with the result.
“They gave Barney a second chance,” said Michelle Hand.