RALEIGH -- A 20-pound cat named Cyrano has been cancer-free since his owner spent thousands of dollars on surgery and radiation in Colorado two years ago, but his left hind leg is still weak and painful.
So the fat orange tabby has come from his northern Virginia farm to Raleigh, where a 10-member surgical team will spend about five hours today giving Cyrano a custom-made artificial knee.
An ad hoc group of experts spread from Raleigh to New Jersey and Germany worked together over the last seven months to design the implant and fabricate it with dense plastic and cobalt chromium alloy.
Veterinarians and engineers at N.C. State University have collaborated on innovative medical procedures since 2005, when Dr. Denis Marcellin-Little performed the world's first surgery to give a cat artificial leg implants that fused together with living bone tissue.
But Cyrano presented the most complicated challenge ever faced by the team at NCSU's College of Veterinary Medicine. The cat's bone cancer and radiation treatment had caused the knee to collapse and parts of his leg to deteriorate.
"It's very painful to him," Marcellin-Little, an orthopedic surgeon, told reporters Wednesday as the 10-year-old cat sprawled before him on a meeting room table. "He's using his leg a little bit, but not very much."
Cyrano's owner is Sandy Lerner, who helped found Cisco Systems in 1984 and was forced out of the company in 1990. Now she raises legacy breeds of poultry and hogs on her Ayrshire Farm near Washington, D.C.
Lerner took Cyrano to doctors at Colorado State University in 2010 because she was determined to save his leg from bone cancer rather than let it be amputated.
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