In December 2005, Florida fisherman Jim Savage rescued a three-month-old bottle nose dolphin he found tangled in the ropes of a crab trap. He contacted the Florida Clearwater Marine Aquarium where she was taken and later lost her entire tail as well as two vertebrae due to the serious injuries she had sustained.
Despite the odds against recovery, Winter the dolphin healed but with a less efficient swimming style due to a lack of thrust. Intrigued by her story, Hanger V.P. of Prosthetics, Kevin Carroll, and Sarasota, Florida, Hanger Practice Manager, Dan Strzempka volunteered to fit her with a prosthetic tail. Created and paid for by Hanger, it was the first artificial tail for a dolphin designed to compensate for the loss of both the peduncle and tail flukes.
Initial attempts at attaching the tail to Winter the Dolphin’s body encountered a challenge in keeping it from sliding off. To overcome this, Hanger helped develop a remarkable new prosthetic liner called WintersGel that clung to her body like a surgical glove grips a human hand. Specifically designed to meet Winter the dolphin’s needs, WintersGel Liners functioned well in water, protected her fragile skin and greatly extended the length of time she could wear her new tail.
WintersGel Liners soon proved to be beneficial to human subjects as well because of their added cushioning and ability to hold prosthetic limbs more securely. And today, many amputees are able to ambulate longer and more comfortably thanks to WintersGel Liners – a product that owes its inception to the indomitable spirit of Winter the Dolphin.