Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Barrington survives brain surgery

Although Barrington is still in the early stages of recovery, watching him navigate around his tank of shallow water gives us hope that the brain surgery he underwent last Thursday was successful. During his first month in our hospital, Barrington’s body quickly recovered from the severe keratin loss on his soft tissues and head. However, his demeanor was poor and he began exhibiting worsening neurological symptoms indicative of brain trauma. Barrington typically floated motionless in his tank, reacted very painfully during treatments, exhibited odd motor skills (his body tensed up completely when he was handled and he wouldn’t use his front flippers to swim), and began twisting his head up and to the left when agitated.

Thanks to Dr. Jason King and his accommodating staff at the Charleston Veterinary Referral Clinic, Barrington received a CT scan and an MRI on July 12th. The CT scan was instrumental in identifying the likely cause of Barrington’s neurological symptoms: a large bone fragment had been shoved downward toward the brain from blunt force trauma to the top of the skull. Although brain surgery had never been performed on a sea turtle at our facility, removing the bone fragment was necessary to save Barrington’s life.

On July 14th our veterinarian, Dr. Shane Boylan, was joined by Dr.’s Nora Schmidt and Cheri Ristau (pictured below) who volunteered their time to assist with Barrington’s experimental surgery. A newly donated Stryker saw, a crucial tool for precision bone cutting, was used to remove a triangular portion of the top of the skull, and the bone fragment was extracted intact. However, we began to worry when Barrington failed to start breathing on his own and his heart rate remained depressed more than twelve hours after surgery. Recovery efforts by STH staff and interns continued until after 3:00 A.M. the next morning.
Today, Barrington has regained some use of his front flippers and is behaving more and more like a normal loggerhead. His muscles no longer remain contracted when we handle him, and he tolerates antibiotic injections well. Although he still twists his head up and to the left on occasion, his neurological symptoms are less severe than they were before the surgery. This resilient loggerhead still has a long way to go before we even begin considering releasing him back into the wild, but we are willing to be patient and let his recovery occur at a turtle’s pace (as it should). Come visit Barrington in our hospital and wish him well as he continues to heal from brain surgery.

Christi Hughes, Sea Turtle Biologist