June 27, 2013 at 3:15 PM ET
Buttercup the duckling hatched in November last year with one foul foot — his left flipper bent backwards and faced the wrong way. When his caregivers discovered he had trouble walking, they decided to suit him up with a replacement.
Since custom-made feet are hard to come by, Mike Garey, Buttercup's friend at the Feathered Angels Waterfowl Sanctuary in Arlington, Tenn., decided to make a twin.
The only way to get a foot for Buttercup, Melissa Ragsdale, president of 3-D printing services at NovaCopy in Nashville told NBC News, was to "scan Buttercup's sister's foot and turn that into a 3-D model and print that out."
That's exactly what Garey did, with a little help from NovaCopy.
Buttercup got his wonky leg surgically removed in February. Now that his stump is fully healed, a webbed plastic foot, a replica of his sister Minnie's foot, fits over Buttercup's "knee" and stays in place so he can walk around or swim just like any other two-footed duck, Ragsdale explained.
"This particular foot took 13 hours to print," she said. The translucent foot is made of a light-sensitive polymer and is about as bendy as a credit card, Ragsdale said. NovaCopy decided to donate the model to Buttercup, but it would otherwise have cost about $50. Buttercup will break in two 3-D-printed prototypes before being fitted with a webbed, flexible silicone prosthetic.
Buttercup seems to be doing splendidly. You can watch him take a nap next to his teddy bear, or take a springtime paddle in a backyard swimming pool — just head over to his Facebook page.