Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Myrtle gets an MRI at Medical University of South Carolina

Myrtle is a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle that suffered a severe trauma to the head that destroyed a significant portion of the skull’s left side. Surgery reduced the fractures, and the turtle has made a remarkably fast recovery. All dead bone has been sloughed and the left eye’s function has tremendously improved. Unfortunately, Myrtle has become a “floater.” Turtles may become floaters for numerous reasons that include gas trapped within the body cavity (coelom) or intestines. Multiple attempts to remove trapped coelomic gas by needle aspiration were unproductive. Radiographs (the picture taken by X-rays) suggested that the buoyancy was either due to hyper inflated lungs or compartmentalized, trapped coelomic gas. Radiographs are best used to evaluate bone issues, and Myrtle appeared to have a problem with his/her organs.
An endoscopic surgery was the next logical step to narrow down the cause until Dr. Ed Jauch and the MUSC MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) team offered their assistance. MRI is a non-invasive (no surgical cutting) technique that allows the visualization of Myrtle’s internal soft tissues. On March 13th, Myrtle visited Drs. Ed Jauch, Paul Morgan, and the MUSC MRI staff. Myrtle quietly sat through nearly 40 minutes of scanning.

Results show that the lungs are the source of the buoyancy and that no surgical exploration for trapped coelomic gas is necessary. The MUSC doctors saved Myrtle from an unproductive surgery. Myrtle, or as I call him Tony Montana due to the scar on his face, is likely buoyant due to some neurological trauma suffered from the head injury that has resulted in hyperinflation of the lungs. Only time and weight belt therapy will tell if Myrtle will relearn to dive. He does dive normally on occasion when motivated by food, but overall, he enjoys staying at the surface. His condition could be compared to a human who suffered a brain injury (i.e., stroke) where the patient may have to relearn certain tasks.
Myrtle is not alone among sea turtles to suffer traumatic injury that results in permanent floatation and much remains unknown about how a boat strike could cause aberrant physiological behavior. The South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program is very grateful to MUSC for helping us find the root of the issue and thereby avoiding unnecessary surgery.

Shane Boylan