Gumpy the sea gull gets new legs this week, with any luck.
This ring-billed gull has earned them.
The bird, which lost both legs at the ankles, will be outfitted with a pair of 3D carbon-printed lower legs, the work of a team with the College of Charleston’s Department of Teaching, Learning, & Technology, and by South Carolina Aquarium veterinarian Shane Boylan in one of his innovative side projects.
They already have made a protoype of the limbs that fit, but the bird could not walk as normally as Boylan wanted. So a new pair is in production and might be fitted by the end of the week.
How cool is this? Ring-billed gulls are considered trash birds, ubiquitous scavengers that raid beach snacks and flock to landfills for freebies. Gumpy was found at Fort Sumter with its legs tangled in fishing line and brought to Boylan so he could be put down.
"Its feet were hanging on by pieces of skin," he said. Boylan, though, doesn't like to give up on animals — and Gumpy was nothing if not gritty, he saw.
"I think if it were any other bird it would have died of stress," he said.
Instead, Gumpy responded to Boylan's hand feeding of fish and vitamins. It now has the run of his house, staggering along on its ankles, wedging between the Boston terriers to see what they're munching in the dog bowl.
Gumpy won't ever return to the wild, but Boylan hopes to get it adopted as a pet. In the meantime, "my wife is being nice about it," he said.
Carbon is the main element in virtually anything solid and can be "printed" in a layering technique to reconstruct solids, even organs. Carbon-printed prosthetics are still an emerging field in veterinary medicine, but they are becoming widespread in human medicine. The technology has been used in industry for years.
It now produces everything from football cleats to human skin. It's used aboard the International Space Station to make tools and repair parts.
Gumpy was named for the lead character in Forrest Gump, whose mother famously called his childhood leg braces "magic shoes." When the character known as Lt. Dan shows up for Forrest's wedding with artificial legs, he calls them magic legs — just what Gumpy needs, Boylan said.
Boylan's "side projects" are the stuff of legend. This is a vet who performed brain surgery on a loggerhead sea turtle, who X-rayed, did ultrasounds and wrangled a donated CT scan for a white sea bass small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
"He has a passion for what he does, and he's very good at it," said veterinarian Cheri Hooper of College Park Road Veterinary Clinic. She took part in the loggerhead surgery.
"He can think outside the box. He'll try anything to save these animals and get them back to functioning. You get swept up in all that passion," she said.
Boylan, 43, has helped push the capability of animal care at the aquarium. He started performing emergency surgery in a room that was little more than a closet. He now supervises a full service veterinary department housed in the state-of-the-art Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery Center.
"When you do my job, I work with anything that's sick," he said about the sea gull. "What I learn from this bird I can use on animals at the aquarium. It's an opportunity to expand the medicine."