There were plenty of smiles in the Campana home Friday afternoon as a man some have labeled the “Dr. Doolittle of Pet Prosthetics” visited with his parents.
Derrick Campana, who was featured in a show called “Dodo Heroes” on Animal Planet earlier this year, and his family spent time with his parents, Jim and Debbie, in the Village of Glenbrook this week before heading out to Disney World.
Derrick owns two businesses that specialize in orthotics and prosthetics for animals. And while he’s helped hundreds of cats, dogs, lamb, sheep, cows and even a gazelle and a turtle, he quickly became an Animal Planet sensation in June when a show aired featuring his efforts to assist an elephant named Jabu in Botswana that was suffering from a leg injury.
“Jabu had an angular limb deformity,” Derrick said, adding that the 6-ton elephant received the injury when he stepped in a hole. “I’ve flown there twice already and was lucky enough to be able to help this humungous beast of an animal. It was just the best experience ever to be able to help this guy.”
It’s safe to say that Derrick is a pioneer in the world of pet orthotics and prosthetics. He got his start helping people – many from the military – with orthotic and prosthetic care after earning degrees from Penn State (sports medicine, kinesiology), Northwestern University (prosthetics) and the University of Connecticut (orthotics). Then one day a veterinarian came to see him with a black Labrador named Charles who needed a prosthesis. It was a moment that changed Derrick’s life dramatically.
“I created the prosthesis for that dog and he walked, pretty much right away,” Derrick said. “I had such an awesome feeling in doing that. It made me realize this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
So Derrick created Animal OrthoCare, with Bionic Pets, LLC to follow. Today, his company treats 200 to 300 animals a month. He also works with sanctuaries that house special-needs animals. And he’s traveled the world helping animals of all shapes and sizes.
“It’s not something I could think of when I was little because there was no such thing,” said Derrick, whose twin brother, Darrell, is a highly successful landscape architect. “So I’ve been able to create an entire industry and pioneer it for the last almost 15 years. It’s just fun every day.”
Derrick, who was in The Villages the past few days with his wife, Kelly, and their two sons, 5-year-old Cole and 4-month-old Jack, also is largely known for helping a rescue dog named Chi Chi, who now lives with a family in Arizona. The loveable dog, a victim of the South Korean meat trade, was left to die in a garbage bag years ago after all four of its legs had been amputated.
Enter Derrick and the opportunity for the special dog to regain its life with a loving family.
“Chi Chi’s owners say she was rescued because of her smile and her attitude,” Derrick said of the dog, which recently won American Humane’s American Hero Award. “They saw a video of Chi Chi and wanted to adopt her right away. It was just really cool to see.”
Derrick said he’s also constantly looking ahead in his industry. Right now he has a facility in Sterling, Va., where custom devices are built and animals are treated, as well as a 15,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota where ready-to-fit devices are made. But his next big project will be much different – a mobile limb lab that will start out by helping animals along the East Coast.
“I’ll be able to travel, see the animal, cast them, build the entire device and fit them on location,” Derrick said. “I’m trying to up my game so I can see each animal and treat them accordingly.”
These days, Derrick, who appeared in a Dec. 20, 2014 Villages-News.com article after being featured in USA Today for his work with 3-D prosthetics, also is staying busy working on a reality show that will be pitched to Animal Planet. And he’s involved with a special upcoming project with Ford Motor Co.
“They’ve asked me to build a prosthesis for a horse with Ford Mustang parts,” he said, adding that he believes the project will be used in a commercial for the car manufacturer. “They’re going to be flying in from Italy and bringing a whole film crew over. So we’ll be building a really cool mechanical horse prosthesis.”
As for Derrick’s visit to The Villages, both of his parents were beaming Friday afternoon as they talked about their son’s mission in life to help animals.
“I knew he was doing extremely well in his business, but it didn’t really hit me until I saw that ‘Dodo Heroes episode,’” Jim said of the show featuring Derrick and Jabu the elephant. “The first time I saw it, I really couldn’t see it because my eyes were all teared up. So I had to see it a second time and third time. I am super proud.”
Debbie agreed, adding that her friends also enjoy following Derrick’s journeys across the globe.
“I’m constantly telling my friends about my son,” said the proud member of the Gem Stone Dancers and a serious line dancer as well. “I’ll put stuff on Facebook and they think it’s the greatest thing, what he does for animals.”
Debbie’s good friend, Pat Grogan, has been following Derrick’s success for many years. In fact, Debbie said, if Derrick had a fan club, her Village of Belle Aire buddy would be the president.
“It’s been so inspiring with all the different animals that he’s helped,” Grogan said. “And it’s just been really fun to watch and see how enthusiastic Debbie and Jim are and how proud they are.”
Of course, Derrick also has a couple of other huge fans right in his own household. Wife Kelly, a United Airlines flight attendant who is taking a year off after the recent birth of their son, Jack, said she couldn’t be prouder of her husband. And she recalled learning about his passion for animals when they first met.
“He started talking about his cat as if his cat was his whole world,” she said. “And then we got a dog together. So yeah, animals are a big part of his life. It’s a huge passion for him and I love animals, too.”
The other fan in the household, 5-year-old Cole, is much more succinct when talking about his father’s line of work.
“Daddy builds dog legs,” Derrick said with a laugh. “That’s what he says.”