Best paw forward
MSU helps dogs with joint replacement; one of first institutions to put new technique to use
Jake’s steps became slightly smaller as he approached the top of the stairs. He tilted his head down the stairway toward Loïc Déjardin, an associate professor in MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “He’s scared,” Déjardin said as he gently tugged on the strip of red fabric extending from Jake’s neck. “Come here, puppy.” One paw after another, the 11-year-old yellow Labrador retriever began his descent.
Jake helped MSU make history in April when Déjardin, a veterinary orthopedic surgeon, implanted the first cementless elbow prosthesis into Jake’s front right leg. The dog became the first in the Midwest to undergo the surgery. There have been 40 worldwide as of Monday.
The technology for the elbow replacement arrived at MSU after Déjardin met Greg Van Der Meulen, an engineer with the New Jersey-based joint replacement company BioMedtrix, about a year ago.
Paving new ground
MSU made history when Loïc Déjardin, an associate professor in MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, implanted a cementless elbow prosthesis in an 11-year-old Labrador retriever.
The dog was the first in the Midwest and about 11th in the world to receive the surgery.
Van Der Meulen introduced the prosthesis and its creator, veterinarian Randy Acker, to Déjardin.
“We don’t have a reliable prosthesis for dogs and that was the first one that we believed was good enough to be implanted,” Déjardin said. “We were waiting for a long, long time.”
A diagnosis will cost a dog owner about $800 and the procedure can reach about $2,500, but Déjardin said the hospital is absorbing about an additional $2,000 in costs.
“This is for the first few cases, about the first 10 to 15 cases, then we’ll apply the right price,” he said.
MSU has a reputation for being a leader in orthopedics and Déjardin said the cutting-edge technology allows the university to build on that image.
Since Jake was about 9 years old, he suffered from arthritis. It began with a limp, but his condition began to worsen as he struggled to climb up and down the house stairs, said Sue Falk, one of Jake’s owners.
“(My husband Dan and I) just thought, ‘Well, he’s getting older,’ and it kept getting gradually worse until we thought maybe something else is going on,” Falk said.
Visits to the Family Friends Veterinary Hospital in Grand Rapids revealed arthritis had developed in Jake’s front right leg.
Jake underwent extensive rehabilitation at the hospital without much change. Sarah Shull, a doctor of veterinary medicine at the hospital, said doctors exhausted every available option trying to ease Jake’s day-to-day pain and referred the Falks to MSU.
Doctors told the couple X-rays didn’t show any bone chips and the main culprit for Jake’s pain most likely was arthritis. At the time, technology for a prosthetic elbow was not available and the doctors could only offer more medication.
“He did mention an elbow prosthesis was possibly in the works at that time, but he had no idea when it would be ready to be done,” Falk said.
“We didn’t really expect it to be in (Jake’s) lifetime.”
Without the guarantee of an elbow replacement, the Falks were left with few options.
“The only options Jake had at the time of the surgery … would have been either to amputate the leg or put him to sleep,” Shull said. “That would have been it.”
Falk expressed concern that Jake would become the guinea pig for MSU, but Shull reassured her of Déjardin and the MSU team’s qualifications. The couple later agreed to the procedure and only about seven months later, Jake can run in the woods and swim in the Falks’ pond.
Déjardin said MSU has received a lot of interest in the procedure and five dogs have received the elbow prosthesis at MSU.
“If we see the prosthesis hold long term, we’ll start doing dogs at an earlier age like 4 to 5 years of age, when they start having all these arthritic problems,” he said.