Grove prosthetic expert gives disabled alpaca a leg up in life
BY SHEILA STOGSDILL World Correspondent
Thursday, November 22, 2012
11/22/12 at 5:14 AM
GROVE - Dave and Beverly Helms have fitted prosthetic limbs for war veterans, diabetics and athletes, but their most unusual client is an active, furry four-legged alpaca.
Dave Helms incorporated the latest in technology of carbon fiber construction, epoxy resin and titanium components to create a prosthetic for a 143-pound alpaca named Cornucopia.
"I like a challenge," Helms said.
Because of the level of deterioration of a previous prosthetic, multiple steps are required to make the prosthesis, he said.
The prosthesis was handmade by Grand Prosthetics and Orthotics LightWeight Artificial Limbs & Braces in Grove.
The Helmses and their adult son, Andy Helms, have all had a part in making the alpaca's prosthetic, and their 14-year-old son, Troy, photographed the process.
Dave Helms, an Air Force veteran with 40 years of prosthetic experience, also created a custom lower-limb prosthesis for a crown crane at the Waco, Texas, zoo.
Six-year-old Cornucopia 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.
But when Cornucopia was about 2 weeks old, it was evident that she was not carrying any weight on her left foreleg. It is assumed that she stepped in a hole and broke her leg.
The animal was taken to Oklahoma State University, where she was examined at OSU's veterinary teaching hospital. X-rays showed that the furry white alpaca had two broken bones in her foot and ankle, Beverly Helms said.
Part of Cornucopia's leg was 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 otherwise good as she raced around on her 3 1/2 legs, but the concern was for the stump and the joints on her other legs, she said.
The wear and tear, and a doubling of the animal's weight, rendered the original prosthesis unworkable, Beverly 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 farming community on Grand Lake. The Callans brought the Helmses in to the alpaca circle.
Now, 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.
"I think when she is all healed up and ready to go, they will be sad."
Dave Helms, who has 40 years of experience fitting prosthetic limbs for war veterans, diabetics and athletes, makes a cast for a prosthetic leg recently for Cornucopia, an alpaca. TROY HELMS/Courtesy