Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)
Stranding Location: Sullivan’s Island, SC
Arrival Date: 1/19/20
Weight: 5.98 lbs (2.72 kg)
Shawn Leighton found Harbor View at the Station 17 path on Sullivan’s Island. He noticed some lacerations to Harbor’s carapace (top shell) and called the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). Shawn carried Harbor to a safe location and waited for the transporters to arrive. Mary Pringle and Barb Gobien, SCDNR Transporters, met Shawn on Sullivan’s Island, and they transported this injured green to the South Carolina Aquarium for further treatment.
Harbor was slightly chilly upon admit at 61° F, so staff cooled the room down to 65° to allow her to slowly warm up. She had a thick layer of sand covering her shell, making it difficult to see the lacerations but radiographs showed two boat strikes on her carapace. One smaller strike was at the top of her shell, near her head and went over nuchal scute at the top of her shell. The other, slightly longer wound, ran parallel to her spine, directly over her left lung. The x-ray made it difficult to visualize the wounds, so we lightly sedated her and took a CT scan. The scan showed that the smaller top strike may have affected her vertebrae, and the larger one broke a few ribs, but her left lung looked good. Our next step was to monitor her flipper use because a concern with boat strike injuries near the spine is the potential for rear flipper paralysis. Her front flippers were working normally, but she wasn’t using her back flippers as well. However, she had a deep pain response, which tells us there is still a chance she could regain full use of the rear flippers, and that swelling and trauma from the injury may be causing the issue. Sometimes it takes time for the injured area to heal and swelling to subside before they begin using the flippers fully. Staff got Harbor cleaned up and gently flushed the propeller wounds to get any sand and debris out of them. They then packed the smaller wound with topical antibiotics and covered it in medical grade honey. For the larger laceration, staff applied a Wound V.A.C ® (Vacuum-assisted closure device). A Wound V.A.C ® provides gentle suction, keeping the wound free of fluid, blood, and bacteria while also helping to promote new tissue granulation. Once the Wound V.A.C ® was running, Harbor was given some vitamins, fluids, was started on antibiotics and was left to rest for the remainder of the day.
January 26, 2020: Harbor has been doing well since admit. The days following her admit, she took it easy on a waterbed and received pain meds. Since she wasn’t being fed, we gave her fluids and vitamins daily to help replace nutrients. On the 22nd, we put her in the tank with the wound V.A.C ® still attached and she was swimming great! She still didn’t have great use of back flippers, but she was able to move around with her front flippers. The following day, we offered her food and she ate immediately! Every day since then, she goes in her tank in the morning, eats, swims around for the entire day and comes out every afternoon before staff leaves. We take her out in the afternoon because we don’t want her Wound V.A.C ® running at night. In a perfect world, we would want the Wound V.A.C ® running all the time, but with our patients living in water, it’s difficult to keep an air tight seal while they’re in water. While she’s in her tank during the day the Wound V.A.C ® tubing is curled up on her back and she’s able to swim freely. We pull her at night, and put her in a nice and comfortable waterbed with the Wound V.A.C ® running overnight. We are still accessing the extent of the injury to her spine and her rear flipper use; her prognosis is guarded.
February 15, 2020: Harbor View has continued to be a critical patient since admit, but is a fighter and is hanging in there. Since admit, Harbor View spent about a week and a half on the Wound V.A.C ® system to help the boat strike injury over her lung heal and we have seen great results! Thanks to our friends over at Charleston Veterinary Referral Center, we were able to take Harbor View to receive an MRI. Dr. Shane wanted to better access if there was a spinal cord compression near the boat strike through her nuchal scute. MRI imaging showed that she did have a compression likely caused by bone fragments from the boat strike. The following week, we scheduled a procedure to debride the boat strike and try to remove any bone fragments under sedation. Additionally, we injected stem cells directly into her spinal cord with the hopes that they will migrate to the injured area and help it heal. Currently, Harbor View is hanging out in our floating kiddie pool so that she’s in low water and is able to rest and heal. We are going to give Harbor View several weeks to see if there’s any improvement in her ability to use her rear flippers, and reevaluate her treatment plan.
March 1, 2020: Harbor View has made more improvements this week! As she has gotten stronger, we have been able to increase her water level by a few inches and she is now a very active patient! He seems to be using one of her rear flippers more normally than the other while swimming. We are hopeful that these improvements will continue as the swelling to her spine is reduced and her fracture heals. However, as with all spinal injuries, it is highly possible that she will never regain full movement of her rear flippers. If so, we will re-evaluate her treatment plan as she heals and time progresses. Her prognosis is still guarded.
March 15, 2020: Harbor View made it to a full tank! She looks like a real turtle and she’s able to navigate very well. There is some use of her rear flippers, and it appears her back right flipper has better movement than the left. Over the past few days, Harbor has begun to defecate lots of marine debris, including an entire red balloon. Unfortunately, this is what we’re starting to see happen more frequently with our patients. Three of the five patients we’ve gotten in this year have passed marine debris. We ask that you make small changes in your life that can greatly affect sea turtles and all wildlife. For example, try reducing the amount of single use plastic you use by replacing them with reusable items. Making small adjustments with reusable straws, water bottles, grocery bags, etc. can make a huge difference in animal’s lives like Harbor View. We hope that Harbor continues to pass the marine debris and doesn’t need surgery. We do have to worry about an impaction in her intestines from all the foreign material. We’re closely monitoring her behavior and fecal to make sure everything is still moving along.
April 1, 2020: Harbor View continues to do well, and is really learning how to better navigate using her rear flippers in deeper water. She received another physical exam, weight and CT scan to see how her spine and carapace fracture is healing. She still has more healing left to do, but the healing of her fracture has improved over the last few weeks. Harbor View’s road to recovery is far from over, but she has surprised us all with the progress she has made. You go, girl!