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SOS gets a leg up from prosthetics designer

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  • | 5:00 a.m. November 9, 2011
Kevin Carroll and Lee Fox have become prosthetic-making pals over the past two years. Both have a passion for saving seabirds.
Kevin Carroll and Lee Fox have become prosthetic-making pals over the past two years. Both have a passion for saving seabirds.
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About two years ago, the last time Kevin Carroll came to Save Our Seabirds, there were no reporters present to capture him fitting two sandhill cranes with prosthetic legs. But since “Dolphin Tale,” a film in which Morgan Freeman plays a character based on Kevin Carroll and Dan Strzemplea, orthotics designers with Hanger Prosthetics, was released — times have changed. The film was based on the story of Winter the dolphin, from Clearwater, who lost his tail in a crab trap and was given a prosthetic tail to help it swim normally.

For the record, Freeman does not look like Carroll.

“All the really good parts (of the movie) were all me, and all the bad parts were based on Dan,” jokes Carroll.

Carroll has made prosthetics for humans for 30 years, but on the nights and weekends, he makes prosthetics for animals. He’s been working with animals since he was a kid.

“Some people go play golf, I do this,” he says.

The Orlando resident has made both prosthetics (limbs) and orthotics (braces) for dogs, ostriches, ducks and, most recently, a sea turtle. And he does it for free.

“Save Our Seabirds wouldn’t be able to afford anything like this,” says Save Our Seabirds Executive Director Lee Fox.

His prosthetics are made from composite materials, high-tech plastics, gel and silicone materials. The process is similar to an orthodontist fitting a patient for a retainer: He does an evaluation, takes a mold, fills it and works the shape around the copy of the limb in a lab.

But, the process isn’t easy because the animals are, well, animals.

“When I was casting the sea turtle, eight or nine people had to hold it,” he says.

Fox is thrilled to have his help. The pair has become friends over the past two years.

“He’s just the nicest guy,” she says.

Carroll has made a few visits to Save Our Seabirds, and he speaks admirably about the work Fox does. He thinks she does a great job of making her own prosthetic bird legs.

Fox makes them from PVC pipes, but she says they aren’t perfect or as comfortable for the birds. During Carroll’s last visit, he outfitted two sandhill cranes with prosthetics. On Friday, Nov. 4, he made leg molds for some additional birds, which will get their new legs in December.

His prosthetics fit the birds’ limbs like a glove, and they can be changed less frequently than the PVC pipes.

Cars or golf balls most typically injure the sandhill cranes. Two weeks ago, Fox rounded up seven injured birds, and last week she added two more. Fox is grateful for any help Carroll can provide.

Carroll shrugs his shoulders.

“Well, someone has to look after these little critters,” he says.

Volunteer information
Save Our Seabirds is in need of volunteers and donations. Call 388-3010 or visit to make donations.


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