Kevin Carroll holds a duplicate of the prosthesis worn by Winter, the Florida Dolphin which lost her tail. Carroll and his associate are the inspiration of the movie, A Dolphin's Tale, showing currently at the Wynnsong Theatre. Morgan Freemon portrays Carroll in the film.
ALBANY — Kevin Carroll is a board certified prosthesis with more than 30 years experience. Recently, his expertise in artificial limbs has brought him fame in a way he could never have expected.
“A Dolphin Tale,” recently released by Warner Brothers Pictures, is showing now at the Wynnsong theater. It’s the story of Winter, a baby dolphin, successfully fitted with a prosthetic tail after she lost hers in a crab trap in 2005. The role of the prosthetist, portrayed by Morgan Freeman, was inspired by Carroll and his friend Dan Strzempka.
Carroll, who is a vice president of Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, was living in Florida, he said, when he heard about the tragedy on public radio.
“I thought, ‘we can put legs on people, why can’t we put a tail on a dolphin,” Carroll said.
He contacted Strzempka, a friend and colleague and discussed the possibilities. Strzempka’s response was “Why not?” Carroll said.”
According to Carroll, the pair worked in the evenings and on weekends to avoid interrupting their regular jobs. Winter was treated and trained to the various prosthetic devices at the Hospital for Injured Sea Life in Clearwater, Fla., Carroll said.
After the loss of her flukes, Winter adopted a fish-like side-to-side method of swimming. The unnatural method eventually caused scoliosis, or curvature of the spine and this made the artificial flukes even more important. Today,Winter’s spine is not perfect, but actually “pretty good,” Carroll said. Even today, a big part of the prosthesis’ function is therapeutic.
“Her trainers still work with her to keep her healthy and keep her spine straight,” Carroll said. “She’s worth it. She has such an incredible spirit and gives back so much.”
According to Carroll, Winter has been an inspiration to people all around the world — not only to amputees but to people with other disabilities.
“Winter can pick a blind child from a group of sighted children,” he said, “or a child with other disabilities you can’t see. We don’t know how she does it, but she has a special affinity for certain people.”
Carroll said that though it was not “totally accurate,” the movie is a fair representation of the events surrounding Winter, her treatment and the series of prosthesis’ she would test. However, Carroll and Strzempka had some concern that a “stand-in” dolphin would star in the actual movie and Winter would be left out.
To prepare her for the movie production, “imitation” cameras and equipment was moved in over a period of several weeks. Her environment was “intensified” over the same period. Winter adapted well to the changing environment.
“She was wonderful,” Carroll said. “She really enjoyed the interaction. The biggest message in all this is what she’s given back. We went down to help a little dolphin get her tail back and it’s turned into all of this.”