Smaug’s Journey: Houston Zoo, Baylor collaborate to help Komodo dragon

The patient was 16 years old, 200 pounds and 7-feet long. Vital statistics like that aren’t unusual for the Houston Zoo, but for Baylor College of Medicine faculty members, treating Smaug the Komodo dragon wasn’t a typical experience.

Smaug, named for the fierce dragon in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” suffers from what we would call “foot drop” in a human. When he lifts his front right leg, he lands on his knuckles instead of the bottom of his foot. So, the Houston Zoo reached out to Baylor for help creating a spring-loaded brace that will help bring his foot into the correct position when he walks.

“It’s a bit different,” said Jared Howell, director of the Orthotics and Prosthetics Program. “You don’t have human tissue, you have scales, different muscle functions and joints that all move in different ways.”

The Orthotics and Prosthetics Program at Baylor helps improve the lives of patients with amputations or disabilities through either prosthetics or devices like the brace Smaug was given.

“He’s wearing it most of the time,” said Judith Bryja, supervisor of reptiles and amphibians at the Houston Zoo. “I give him little breaks, so we don’t yet have long periods of time where he’s walking without the brace. But I think it is already making a difference, because when I do give him a break, and he walks around, you can see his foot go to the sit like it wants to flip over, but it goes the right way.”

Read more about Baylor’s collaboration with the Houston Zoo helping Baylor the elephant and Cheyenne the orangutan. Learn more about the Orthotics and Prosthetics Program at Baylor.

-By Andy Phifer

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