Take two aspirin and call me in the morning!
My sister is a zoo veterinarian (yes, I had to spell check that word) at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado. She sent me this news story about their lowland gorilla who had, of all things, a headache of vast proportion as you can only imagine a gorilla might have.
What was interesting was that he knew enough to hold his head indicating that it hurt him. Like all vets, the toughest job is trying to determine if an animal is sick before the symptoms are too obvious and the animal is too sick and finding out where it hurts is even harder. It is a big help if the animal can point to where the pain is. My dog hasn’t quite mastered that trick yet but he can go to the sink and bark if he needs more water, which I think is very clever. My zoo vet sister’s dog however, can go get a beer out of the refridgerator, close the door and get the bottle opener if you just say ” Hey, I would like a beer” – those zoo vets, always one upping you with the animal stories So enough chat, here is her latest animal story. Just so you know, I also sent the story and photos to the Smithsonian Channel for their Zoo Vet show-maybe they will go out and do shows at other zoos other than just the National Zoo.
My sister promised me photos and this is the first one that came over. I see a slight resemblance in the hanging around part but the hair color is way off.
Ailing gorilla gets help from human health care
It was a house call that Dr. Joseph Hegarty and others won’t soon forget.
Hegarty, an ear surgeon from Colorado Springs Ear Associates, performed surgery on Rafiki, a 25-year-old silverback lowland gorilla, early this month at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Hegarty was one of many from the local medical community who donated their time and services to come to the ailing Rafiki’s rescue.
The gorilla’s problems began in early August with lethargy, reduced appetite and a headache — as evidenced by him frequently holding his hand to his head.
“He’d just sit there, holding it for quite a while,” said veterinarian Della Garelle, the zoo’s director of animal health.
After Rafiki failed to improve despite being put on antibiotics and other medications, the veterinary staff decided a brain scan was needed. Not wanting to have to transport Rafiki, Garelle began the search for a mobile CT unit. Denver-based Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers offered the use of its unit.
The unit, housed in a tractor-trailer rig, was driven to the zoo and the scan was performed Sept. 3. The rig was too big to drive right up to the zoo’s Primate World exhibit, so Rafiki had to be anesthetized and wheeled down the hill on a gurney.
So how do you sedate a 450-pound gorilla? Very carefully, said Dr. John Marta, a local anesthesiologist who has donated his services to the zoo several times, including for a gorilla C-section years ago.
Rafiki had to first be darted with a sedative, Marta said. The bigger challenge was placing an IV, since a gorilla’s skin is quite tough, he said.
The CT scans revealed an infection of Rafiki’s mastoid bone behind his right ear, along with a severe middle and inner ear infection. In assembling a medical team to decide the course of action, the zoo reached out in many ways: Dr. Jack Adams, a neurologist, was referred by an orthopedist who had aided the zoo, while Garelle found Dr. Tanweer Khan, a radiologist, in the phone book.
Adams, Khan and veterinary radiologist Dr. Jason Arble reviewed Rafiki’s brain scans and his condition and determined that Rafiki needed surgery to clean out the infection and relieve the pressure on his brain.
Adamscontacted Hegarty — but broke the news of his patient’s unique status carefully, saying only that he had “this 25-year-old male” with a litany of symptoms. After Hegarty offered his opinion, Adams told him, “Joe, the problem is he’s a silverback gorilla. And Joe said, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’ ”
After seeing the scans, Hegarty agreed to do the surgery, which was set for Sept. 5. If Rafiki hadn’t undergone surgery, Hegarty said, “he would have had a complication somehow that would have most likely killed him,” such as sepsis.
A scrubbed-down gorilla enclosure became the operating room; Hegarty operated with the help of three surgical nurses and a surgical microscope and other equipment donated by Memorial Health System.
Hegarty performed a myringotomy, an incision in the eardrum to drain Rafiki’s ear infection, and a mastoidectomy, drilling out a cavity to drain the bone infection — a surgery Hegarty performs roughly five times a week on humans.
Though a gorilla surgery was a first for him, performing the procedure on Rafiki wasn’t much different than on humans, Hegarty said. “It’s essentially the same anatomy.”
Five days later, Hegarty and the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers’ scan unit made a return visit to check Rafiki and cleanse the surgical site.
Two weeks later, “he’s not out of the woods,” Garelle said. The gorilla isn’t eating quite his normal diet and he remains on several medications. But he’s on the road to recovery — a road paved, Garelle noted, by a small army of veterinary and human health care professionals.
“It’s just been a huge community effort,” she said.
In you go big guy! Since they knocked him out I guess the banging noice doesn’t bother him at all. Can you imagine if he woke up! That is my sister on the left.
Very cool story. Now do you want to see the ear infection part, I am warning you – it is a little gross.
I know, gross but cool.
Thanks della for sharing. Send along more photos of the zoo animals. And we will all wait and see if the Smithsonian Channel responds to my email.
Faux Farm Girl,