August 4, 2011 in Nation/World

‘Miracle turtle’ healed, released

Unique surgeries helped save Andre
Matt Sedensky Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Andre, an endangered green turtle, is released into the ocean after a 414-day stay at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, Fla., on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

JUNO BEACH, Fla. – A badly injured sea turtle that underwent a year of rehabilitation and innovative surgeries was released Wednesday by caretakers hoping he finds a mate and helps his endangered species prosper.

Andre, as the 177-pound green sea turtle is known, crawled into the water and swam out of sight before a crowd of hundreds of raucous supporters. He was near death when he was found split open and stranded last year.

“He has overcome obstacles, predators, food scarcities, cold winters – any number of things that may have ended his life – and he has survived,” said Dr. Nancy Mettee, a veterinarian at Loggerhead Marinelife Center who cared for Andre. “He’s really a miracle turtle.”

When Andre was found stranded on a sandbar on June 15, 2010, he had gaping holes in his shell, the result of two apparent boat strikes. More than three pounds of sand were inside him, along with at least a couple of crabs, a raging infection and a collapsed lung. His spinal cord was exposed, pneumonia was plaguing him and death seemed certain.

Any one of those injuries could have killed him, but his flippers were working and his neurological function appeared normal. So after beachgoers pulled him ashore on a boogie board, veterinarians began what became a yearlong effort to save him.

To help remove fluid and other materials and close his wounds, doctors used a vacuum therapy system.

To help close gashes in the shell, Dr. Alberto Vargas, a local orthodontist, installed braces similar to those used on humans. And to fill in the gaping holes, doctors employed a procedure typically used to help regrow breast tissue in mastectomy patients and abdominal tissue in hernia patients.

All are believed to be animal firsts, and Andre’s supporters say the herculean effort was worth it.

Green sea turtles have persisted since prehistoric times, but are endangered today. Only a small fraction of hatchlings survive and even fewer go on to reach adulthood and reproduce.

Andre is believed to be about 25 years old. The hope is that he will swim off, mate often and help his species survive.

“Go out and live long and prosper and have lots of babies,” said Aaron Lichtig, a 40-year-old science teacher who was among those who first spotted the turtle and brought him to shore.

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