By Mike Salmon
Laying under netting in an African tent watching the monkey’s antics in the surrounding trees was not the way Alexandria resident Derrick Campana’s pictured his career path, but last December, there he was, in Botswana, on a mission to help an elephant with his animal prosthetics skills.
It all started when a 30-year-old African bull elephant named “Jabu” stepped in a hole and injured his leg, which is an injury that could be life-threatening if it was unable to get around. Jabu was under the watch of an organization called LIVING WITH ELEPHANTS a Botswana based non-profit organization dedicated to caring for rescued African Elephants in the sanctuary of the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Jabu’s caretakers, Doug and Sandi Groves who run Living with Elephants Foundation, heard about Campana’s past experience with animal prosthetics, and reached out in the hopes that he could help. “Derrick’s response was pretty positive right off the bat,” said Sandi Groves.
To Sandi, Jabu was part of her family and getting him the orthotic brace that would help him survive in the African bush was essential. Campana went to Botswana the first time to fit the prosthetic carpel brace, and then returned in December 2017 to put it on Jabu. Film crews were there both times. He could tell Jabu knew what was going on, and knew the brace was going to help him when he shined an elephant smile at Campana. “It was more they have such spirited eyes, Jabu showed his appreciation through his eyes,” Campana said. “He was stopping and standing a lot, that was a nice thing to witness,” he said.
They linked up with “Dodo Heroes,” a new series with the Animal Planet television show that “spotlights powerful bonds between animals and people,” according to the Animal Planet website. Campana had experience helping elephants in Thailand which put him in a pretty elite group on an international scale. Their first episode was “Derrick’s Elephant Challenge,” and for animal show enthusiasts, it was a good way to kick off a series.
In the bush, he was in tents at the park where there was a cook using the open campfire and monkeys in the shadows scheming to steal some food. “I thought this was entertaining and fun,” he said. One night he heard a noise so he turned his flashlight on
the spot and “there’s a hyena about five feet away,” he said, but this was understandable in these conditions. “You’re the visitor, you’re in their world,” Campana said.
Back here in Virginia, Campana is the founder of Animal Ortho Care, the only animal bracing and supports company in the country to offer custom, semi-custom and customizable animal braces.
Campana went to school for human orthopedics but was approached by a veterinarian who needed a prosthesis for her dog. Animal orthopedics has been his passion since. Although he sees patients at his office (mostly dogs), he also provides a mail service, which customers can mold their pet’s limbs with a casting kit and send it back to him to create a custom-made prosthesis. To date, he says he has helped more than 20,000 animals.
He provides orthotics, prosthetics, and pain management devices to assist animals and pets of all species maintain a quality of life, whether they have been disabled through trauma, illness or old age.
Although Campana and his wife were in the process of building their own family, he somehow managed to fit it all in last winter, and when the show came out in early June, they all watched it on the maternity ward television where his wife had just given birth. “We had to watch it in the hospital with our newborn,” he said. In addition, he recently traveled to New York City to headline on a few talk shows like “Good Day New York,” “US Weekly,” and “Cheddar.” “I did a media tour,” he said.
India has reached out to him since the show came out, with a “bunch of horses and donkeys that need prosthesis,” he said. A majority of these can be done with pictures and molds sent overnight, but do not require him to travel. It would be his dream job though – owning an airplane, and flying around helping pets and animals in this fashion, similar to Dr. Pol on reality television. In fact, the wheels of reality television are spinning in Campana’s world and he may have a show soon, he said.
Campana started his orthotic adventure at Northwestern University where he did post-grad work in orthotics and prosthetics in 2002-2004. He helped pets on a smaller scale around Alexandria before opening “Animal Orthocare LLC” in Sterling where he is the CEO and President.
The treatment for Jabu is continuing, and an x-ray was done by Living With Elephants, according to Groves. People can find Jabu on IG #jabutheelephant or support him at withelephants.org