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Patient Spotlight: Injured Stray Kitten Learns to Walk Again

Frankenstein kitten playing with red string
Frankenstein, a 6-week-old kitten, plays with a red string while recovering from orthopedic surgery. Photo by John Joyner/NCState University

In Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein ends up repulsed by the monster he makes. Emilee Luckring, on the other hand, loves Frankenstein, her adorable adopted kitten she calls her little monster. 

“I helped put the kitten back together,” Luckring said. “And the name Frankenstein just stuck.”

It’s impossible to know what happened to the 6-week-old kitten, nicknamed Frankie, before her adoption. The stray kitten had suffered severe trauma to her hind legs. She couldn’t walk and was in considerable pain when she was rescued and taken to the NC State Veterinary Hospital, where Luckring was finishing up her surgical residency.  

Luckring knew that she could give Frankie a chance to be a normal kitten with a little extra care and attention.

Emilee Luckring holds Frankenstein during a recheck appointment. Photo by John Joyner/NC State University

Radiographs and a CT scan showed that Frankie had significant fractures on her right femur, left tibia and pelvis. While fractures are common in young kittens since their bones are immature, femur fractures are generally caused by a powerful force from a car or a fall from a considerable height. 

Since Frankie was so young, the NC State orthopedic surgery team needed to develop a plan to fix her fractures and keep her bones straight as she continued to heal and grow normally. Luckring and the team decided to place one of the smallest available stainless steel bone plates, a 1.5 millimeter named for the diameter of the screw, on Frankie’s right femur. An external fixator with even smaller pins was placed on her left tibia. 

Bone plates and screws are permanently placed internally between the skin and the bone to cover and stabilize the fracture. Fixators, like Frankie’s, are temporarily placed externally over the skin. Most external fixators use a metal rod that runs the length of the leg bone with clamps attached above, below and along the fracture to hold the short stainless steel pins that connect the fractured bone. The fixator stabilizes the fracture so the bones can heal in the correct alignment. Since Frankie was so small, Luckring had to custom make the external fixator out of epoxy, instead of using a rod and clamps, to hold the temporary 0.9 millimeter and 1.1 millimeter pins while Frankie’s bones healed.

Frankenstein kitten's epoxy fixator
Frankenstein’s external epoxy fixator holds the pins while her tibia heals. Photo by John Joyner/NC State University

Frankie’s three-hour procedure was a success, and she was able to go home with Luckring the next day, where she met Luckring’s dog Kale, an 8-year-old pitbull mix, for the first time. Luckring wasn’t sure how Kale would react to having a new housemate, but it didn’t take long for the two to become fast friends. 

“It’s been wonderful,” Luckring said. “He’s so sweet and gentle with her.” 

Frankenstein kitten and pit mix Kale
Frankenstein and Kale get to know each other after Frankie’s surgery. Photo submitted by Emilee Luckring

After three weeks of trying to keep the feisty kitten still so her bones could heal, Luckring returned to the veterinary hospital for a recheck. New radiographs showed that Frankie’s tibia was completely healed and her external fixator could be removed.

“She’s a healing machine,” Luckring said. “Young animals, like Frankie, grow and heal so fast. Her recovery is going very smooth and she shouldn’t need any more surgeries in the future.”

Frankie is back to being a normal kitten, running around her house and playing with toys and Kale. It’s almost impossible to tell she even had major surgery. Once she’s cleared to stop wearing her blue e-collar, there won’t be any signs left. 

Frankenstein kitten plays with a ball of paper
Surgery doesn’t slow down Frankie. She enjoys playing like a normal kitten after surgery. Photo by John Joyner/NC State University

Next up for the trio is a cross-country road trip from Raleigh to Dublin, Calif. Luckring completed her surgery residency and has accepted a staff surgeon position at an emergency veterinary and specialty hospital in the town 35 miles east of San Francisco. 

“I’m excited to start this next big adventure and Frankie has been a perfect road trip companion.”

Frankie’s journey continues to diverge from the classic novel. Her story arc is full of love and care, instead of fear and pain, leading to a happy ending in this new chapter of her life.


 To learn more about the orthopedic surgery service, visit their web page.

~Brittany Sweeney/NC State Veterinary Medicine