When he was born in a high school biology lab last November, little Buttercup wasn't like all the other ducklings: His left foot was turned backward, making getting around a bit of a trial for the little guy. Although his caregiver at the school worked on turning the foot around the right way, it couldn't quite get there.
So when he was transferred to Feathered Angels Waterfowl Sanctuary in Arlington, Tenn., new owner Mike Garey realized pretty quickly that something had to be done.
"With his deformed foot, he would have been in pain and had constant cuts and foot infections walking on the side of it even at our sanctuary here, and foot infections on these guys is always a serious matter," Garey said.
After Buttercup had his foot amputated in February, Garey -- a software engineer by trade -- started looking into options for a replacement limb. Sure, Buttercup could have a peg leg, but what if Garey could replace the entire foot?
After shopping around for a service, he found 3D-printing company NovaCopy, which agreed to donate its services to helping Buttercup walk again. Together, using photos of the left foot of Buttercup's sister Minnie, they designed a brand new left foot for Buttercup.
Because the foot needs to be flexible, the usual plastics used in 3D printing aren't viable. Instead, NovaCopy printed a mold, which will be used to cast a silicone foot for the lucky duck, creating several iterations of the design to come up with the perfect one. It will be attached to his foot via a silicone sheath.
"This version will have a stretchy silicone sock instead of the finger trap, which will roll up on his leg, be inserted into the foot and then have a fastener in the bottom," Garey said. "If you saw Dolphin Tail, this material is similar to the WintersGel that they used." WintersGel is a prosthetic liner that grips the amputated limb.
Buttercup, currently walking around on his stump, is due to get his new foot very soon, with the final design arriving in the next two weeks. You can follow Buttercup's story on his Facebook page.