GROVE — Dave and Beverly Helms have fitted prosthetic limbs for war veterans, diabetics, athletes and one active four-legged client.
Dave Helms has incorporated the latest in technology of carbon fiber construction, epoxy resin and titanium components to create a prosthetic to meet the daily needs of a growing 143-pound female alpaca named Cornucopia.
This will be Cornucopia's second prosthesis.
The first was made when she was a baby, but because of its deterioration, a second prosthesis is needed.
“I like a challenge,” Helms said.
The prosthesis was handmade by Grand Prosthetics and Orthotics LightWeight Artificial Limbs & Braces in Grove.
Dave and Beverly Helms and their adult son, Andy, all had a part of making the alpaca's prosthetics.
Their son, Troy, 14, photographed every step of the process.
Helms, a U.S. Air Force veteran with 40 years of prosthetic experience, also created a custom lower limb prosthesis for a crown crane at the Waco Zoo.
Cornucopia was born Nov. 13, 2006. She belongs to Michael and Sherry Alpert, of Oklahoma City, who own and operate Awesome Acres 'Pacas & Pyrs.
“From all appearances, she was normal, healthy and very active,” Beverly Helms said.
When Cornucopia was about 2 weeks old, it became evident she was not carry any weight on her left foreleg, Helms said.
Her owners assumed she stepped in a hole on their Oklahoma City ranch and broke her leg, she said.
The animal was taken to Oklahoma State University's veterinary teaching hospital to be examined.
X-rays showed the white furry alpaca had two broken bones in her foot and ankle.
Parts of Cornucopia's left leg were amputated, leaving her with a stump.
“Despite all hopeful efforts, Cornucopia would not walk on three legs,” Beverly Helms said.
“She insisted on walking on her stump.”
Cornucopia's mobility was extremely good as she raced around on her three and half legs, but the concern was for the stump and the joint on the other legs and both shoulders, Helms said.
Wear and tear and a doubling of the animal's weight rendered the original prosthesis no longer serviceable.
A footplate was created, but the pylon system failed and the prosthesis was worn to simply provide protection to the residual limb, Helms said.
Efforts to find someone in the Oklahoma City area to make a new leg for Cornucopia were failing.
In the small alpaca world, the Alperts met Tom and Kathleen Callan of Zena Suri Alpacas, located in a small rural farming community on Grand Lake. The Callans brought the Helms into the alpaca circle.
“Right now the test socket fittings have proved successful,” Beverly Helms said.
Cornucopia is running, playing, sleeping and eating on the Callans' 78-acre ranch as she goes through rehabilitation.
“She is fitting in with 54 alpacas and six llamas,” Kathleen Callan said.
“They have adopted her into the herd. She is pretty much one of them.”
Cornucopia is wearing a sock, along with the prosthetic leg, because it helps cushion the area, she said.
“I think when she is all healed up and ready to go, they [herd] will be sad,” Callan said.
Cornucopia is such an inspiration to everyone, she said.
“If she can do — humans can do,” Callan said. “She has to handle four legs where humans only have to handle two legs.”
The final fitting and alignment of the prosthesis is expected to be completed within weeks.