Off the coast of Florida, a two-month-old bottlenose dolphin was in trouble. A rope was tangled around her tail, cutting off blood flow. Rescuers freed the baby dolphin, which they named Winter, and rushed her to nearby Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Winter recovered, but veterinarians couldn’t save her damaged tail. Without it, she couldn’t swim properly—a skill essential for her survival.
Kevin Carroll and Dan Strzempka heard Winter’s story and offered to help. They design prostheses for people with missing limbs at Hanger Clinic in Maryland. Together they created a flexible replacement tail that had a soft silicone liner. To assess whether the tail was comfortable for Winter, the team used a heat-sensing camera. It detected hot spots where the liner chafed Winter. “If we didn’t do something, that could cause breakdown of her skin,” says Strzempka. The team’s solution: They invented a material called WintersGel. They used it to make a squishy sleeve that would protect Winter’s skin while she wore her new tail.
Thanks to prostheses, injured animals like Winter are getting a second chance at life. And their stories give hope to countless people as well. Innovations like the high-tech material made for Winter are helping experts create better, more comfortable artificial limbs for people too. “There are thousands of people all over the world now wearing prosthetics lined with WintersGel,” says Carroll.