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Baby gorilla gets helping hand from Children's Hospital

The western lowland gorilla born at the zoo on October 20, 2007, got some "out of this world" help for a congenital spine abnormality discovered a couple weeks after her birth. Woodland Park Zoo's crack Animal Health Care Team first examined the baby and ran tests to determine the diagnosis. Once it was found that the problem was a congenital problem that could be rectified with surgery, a team of neurosurgeons and a neonatologist from Seattle's Children's Hospital volunteered their services, along with special state-of-the-art neurospinal instruments donated by New Jersey-based Integra LifeSciences Corporation. Dr. Rob Liddell of Radiology Consultants Washington provided consultation and MRI diagnostics in December.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Richard Ellenbogen called it a "Star Trek-type experience" for he and his team which included Dr. Craig Jackson, Dr. Sam Browd from Children's. "(We) were proud to help with an endangered species such as the baby gorilla. The operation was a great success from our perspective, and we are hoping for a full recovery." Following the surgery, the mass that was removed is we're pending the results of biopsy diagnostics.

Dr. Kelly Helmick, the zoo's Interim Director of Animal Health, and Dr. John Ochsenreiter, our Interim Associate Veterinarian, assisted with the procedure and both expressed their gratitude for the Children's doctors' skills and generosity, as well as the professionalism of our gorilla keepers who provided excellent pre- and post-surgery care. "We are extremely grateful to the entire medical team for volunteering their time and specialized skills for our young conservation ambassador," noted Helmick.

Wildlife and zoo medicine is a field that is rapidly evolving. It is through the cooperation of experts in veterinary medicine and human medicine that incredible care such as that provided for the baby can be accomplished--care that not that long ago would not have been possible.

The little female gorilla was returned to her mother, Amanda, following her recovery from anesthetic. Soon we will post video of the surgical procedure here (don't worry; it's pre-screened for the squeamish!).

Visit the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for a full story and stay tuned for Evening Magazine which will run a piece within the next few days. For more about the babies birth, including a slideshow and video, visit our Species Spotlight. We'll keep you posted! Photos by Ryan Hawk


Anonymous said…
I love to hear stories of people going out of their way to help animals. I hope the baby recovers. This story made me wonder if pregnant zoo animals get prenatal vitamins and if animals get extra supplements to help with healing after surgery.