Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sea turtle hospital news

There's one thing you can always count on if you're a volunteer at the turtle hospital: expect the unexpected. We've had plenty of surprises over the years, but when a functioning, juvenile Loggerhead with about half of her carapace smashed to smithereens arrived we couldn't do anything but stand there with our mouths open.

A very observant NOAA worker spotted her in the water and quickly contacted our former hospital intern (now state wildlife sea turtle biologist) Wendy Cluse for transport to our facility. And talk about a tricky transport. Ever try picking up a broken flowerpot while keeping the pot, dirt, roots and plant intact? Try doing something similar with a living, breathing one-hundred-
plus-pound sea turtle that's not happy about you trying to help her. There's no good way to move something that's been shattered into that many pieces. This was a serious impact injury; an impact with something big.

Our reaction upon admission was: this is a miracle. Not only did this girl get knocked for loop and shattered to pieces but she had been out there in that condition for at least several weeks. The exposed tissue, mostly lung, was showing signs of healing. After a thorough bath our yet unnamed patient was settled into a tank of shallow, fresh water to kill the hundreds of leeches that accompanied her to the hospital. And those were some big suckers – literally. We immediately implemented our standard regimen of antibiotics, treated her wounds and tried to keep her quiet to prevent further damage until the day of her surgery.

After an early morning wake-up call our girl was on her way to the NC State College of Veterinary medicine for some reconstructive work. Her welcoming committee included another hospital ex intern, Bobby Pederson who works as a vet tech at the college, as well as one of our turtle vets, Dr. Greg Lewbart, who would be supervising the surgery. After a lot of deriding the surgical team concentrated on locating the pieces and solving the puzzle. They slowly reassembled our miracle girl, using a total of eleven surgical steel plates and lots of screws. Many hours later "Oceans 11" (named for her eleven plates) was on her way back to KBSTRRC for a long recuperation.

Clearly, this is a critter with an amazing will to survive, and that makes our jobs a lot easier. She's got a very sweet personality and does everything she can to cooperate with us during her prolonged daily treatments. She's even beginning to get her appetite back. For a big turtle with a very large mouth she has excellent table manners, taking her food very gently and chewing well before swallowing. She's already showing signs of healing, developing scar tissue over the sections of exposed lung and other open areas. Her wounds, while numerous, were not very deep, so no major organs were seriously compromised. But it's going to take a long, long time and a lot of work on the part of our staff before Mother Ocean gets her 11 back.

Don't shop until you drop!

Log on to our website (www.seaturtlehospi and check out our revised and updated "Adopt A Rescued Sea Turtle" program for a unique holiday or special occasion gift. Review our list of patients up for adoption, and with one click you'll be on your way to playing a part in their feeding, medication and rehabilitation. There's a level of giving for every budget, every occasion. The hardest part? Deciding which of those smiling faces you love the most. Your feet and our turtles thank you!

Challenge yourself

We can't build our new facility without your support. One way to become part of new hospital is by signing up for "The Family Giving Challenge." First, visit our website: www.seaturtlehospit and request the official giving form from our Webmaster. Decide who's in your family, then put your game faces on and come up with some creative ways to get together your $1,000 donation for our building fund. You can be a family of one: or you can be the one in your family who spearheads this challenge. You make the rules.

When you're ready to submit your donation just fill out the form and mail it to us per the instructions. Your family name will appear on a plaque, which will be permanently displayed in our new facility. You can also make your donation anonymously if you wish. How proud will you be when you bring your friends and relatives through our new building and point to your family's name on the wall! You're literally getting in on the ground floor of our much-needed state-of-the art rehabilitation facility. Flipper hugs in advance.

You can't pay for this kind of dedication

A special thanks to all the volunteers who came through over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend when both our water and heating systems decided to take a few days off. When the heat pump that keeps our turtle water nice and toasty wouldn't toast, and various parts of our diva-like water system punked out on us our volunteers worked in shifts, long into the wee hours of the morning, to keep the turtles clean and warm. After a very long weekend things were back to normal – for now.

Questions, comments or to receive our monthly newsletter

Contact me at: with questions or comments. Contact me at: to request to be added to the monthly e-mail newsletter. This column will appear in print every other week through next spring.

(Karen Sota is a volunteer at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, a.k.a. the turtle hospital. For more information on the sea turtle hospital go to www.seaturtehospita

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