Wednesday, August 3, nearly 1,500 supports witnessed the release of an endangered green sea turtle in Juno Beach, Florida. The turtle, dubbed Andre, spent over a year in a marine rehabilitation facility healing from massive injuries. A team of doctors experimented with first time procedures in an attempt to save Andre. Though many were skeptical the turtle could be saved, the recovery is being hailed as a miracle.
On Father’s Day 2010, beachgoers discovered Andre stranded at a sandbar with two large, gapping holes in his shell. The injuries are believed to have been sustained by boat propellers. Though the sea turtle’s flippers were working and his neurological function was normal, Andre had suffered substantial wounds. Over three pounds of sand were inside him, along with a severe infection, pneumonia, a collapsed lung and his spinal cord was exposed. Veterinarian Dr. Nancy Mettee, cared for Andre at Loggerhead Marinelife Center and said any one of the injuries could have killed the turtle.
The injured sea turtle was pulled ashore via boogie board before being loaded into an ambulance. Hospital coordinator at Loggerhead, Melissa Ranly, rode in the ambulance with Andre and said he exuded a tremendous amount of strength. “We just noted that this turtle was strong. Even though he had these really severe wounds, he just had this life about him and was in it for the long haul.” That long haul turned into 14 months of groundbreaking techniques used to save the endangered green sea turtle.
Dr. Mettee and her staff first had to remove sand and other fluids from the shell’s holes. Loggerhead Marinelife Center borrowed a negative pressure wound vacuum from Kinetic Concepts Inc. (KCI), located in San Antonio. The system, also known as V.A.C. therapy, removed debris from the wounded area, along with re-inflating Andre’s collapsed lung. KCI specializes in new technological and therapeutic advancements “to make wound healing manageable.” Dr. Mattee and KCI collaborated in an effort to insert Strattice Reconstructive Tissue Matrix. The procedure allowed an acellular skin matrix to act as a brace until Andre’s injuries could heal through the turtle’s own functions.
With internal injuries stabile and the shell gaps filled, the Loggerhead team turned to orthodontist, Dr. Alberto Vargas to help brace the shell. Dr. Vergas took casts of Andre’s shell to create modified palate expanders – similar to human teeth braces – to help position the shell, allowing for easier healing. In total, the sea turtle received six orthodontic applications, four aimed at pulling parts of the shell together and two aimed at pushing apart the shell to increase growth. For three months, Loggerhead employees used keys mechanism everyday to pull together the gapped areas. In May of this year, the orthodontic devices were removed from the shell. The procedure proved successful with some areas closing as much as two centimeters.
During Andre’s stay, the resilient turtle became a celebrity as people followed his progress via webcam and letters of well-wishes flooded the Center’s mail. Over 200 people from across the globe sent checks in hopes of being honorary adoptive parents. Much of Andre’s fan base traveled to the beach to wish him farewell as he was released back into the ocean. Those who worked with the sea turtle said the release was bittersweet, but none more so than for Dr. Mattee. She said she knows the endangered turtle must be released in hopes he will mate, but she fears what he may face back in the water. Dr. Mattee continued saying she grew to know Andre very well and feels “[i]f it’s possible that an animal could know that we were trying to help I think that he did.”
Photo Credit: celebrating200years.noaa.gov/activities/dayinthelife.html