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Injured turtle rolls through recovery with a Lego wheelchair

Heartwarming and practical application of LEGOs from the Maryland Zoo:

BALTIMORE, MD – A wild Eastern box turtle at The Maryland Zoo is on the mend and on the move thanks to some clever engineering using LEGO® bricks.

“In July, an injured turtle was found in Druid Hill Park by a Zoo employee, and was brought to the Zoo’s hospital for treatment,” said Dr. Ellen Bronson, senior director of animal health, conservation, and research at the Zoo. “He had multiple fractures on his plastron, the bottom part of his shell. Because of the unique placement of the fractures, we faced a difficult challenge with maintaining the turtle’s mobility while allowing him to heal properly.”

The Zoo’s veterinary team performed surgery to stabilize the turtle’s severely fractured shell. Metal bone plates, sewing clasps and surgical wire now hold the delicate shell fragments together.

It was important to keep the bottom of the shell off the ground so it could heal properly,” said Garrett Fraess, veterinary extern at the Zoo. (A veterinary extern is a fourth year veterinary student doing a clinical rotation at the Zoo as part of their veterinary school training.) “They don’t make turtle-sized wheelchairs. So, we drew some sketches of a customized wheelchair and I sent them to a friend who is a LEGO® enthusiast.”

The sketches proved to be a success and the turtle received his very own multi-colored LEGO® brick wheelchair just a few weeks after surgery. The turtle is roughly the size of a grapefruit. The small LEGO® frame surrounds his shell and sits on four LEGO® wheels. Plumbers putty attaches the device to the edges of the turtle’s upper shell, which gets him off of the ground and allows his legs to be freed up so he can move.”

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