Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii)
Stranding Location: Cape Cod Bay, MA
Arrival Date: 11/27/22
Weight: 2.4kg (4.4 lbs)
This turtle is one of many that stranded up in the New England area due to cold stunning, the sea turtle equivalent of hypothermia. New England Aquarium admits hundreds of turtles during the colder winter months; this year, we were able to take in 15 of these turtles to help lighten their load. We coordinate with New England Aquarium and a non-profit called Turtles Fly Too to transport the turtles here. Many thanks to pilot Steve Bernstein and his son Owen for flying them from New England down to Charleston!
Upon admit, Taurus had a normal heart rate and respiration rate. Taurus received x-rays, a blood pull, fluids and PE from our vet team. X-rays indicated the presence of pneumonia and in-house bloodwork was relatively normal. They were already started on antibiotics at New England Aquarium. Once their body temperature acclimated to the room temperature, which was set a few degrees higher to increase their body temperature, they were cleared to be placed in a tank in the basement ICU. They were extremely buoyant when placed in the tank and unable to dive. After monitoring closely, we decided to put them at a low water level in a bin so that they could rest comfortably overnight.
December 15, 2022: Following admit, Taurus received a CT scan to better access the severity of the pneumonia and potentially find the cause of what was creating the buoyancy. Once completed, the CT showed that there was a lot of free air in their coelomic cavity that was compressing their lungs. When free air is present like that, it could indicate that there is either a lung tear or a rupture somewhere in the gastrointestinal tract from an obstruction. To help improve their ability to breathe, Dr. Jamie used a needle and syringe to carefully “tap” Taurus’s coelomic cavity to remove the air and relieve the pressure on the lungs. While a significant amount of air was removed, follow up imaging showed that there was very little change to the amount of air in the body. Taurus did appear to be able to breathe a little more comfortably, so we left them to rest in a water bed of foam and shallow water in the med lab overnight. Vet staff waited to see if the air would refill overnight. If it did, vet staff would need to repair the injured lung.
The following morning, x-rays were repeated and unfortunately, it appeared that there was the same amount of air present in their coelomic cavity as before the removal. Taurus was sedated and prepped for a blood patch, in which donor blood from a healthier Kemp’s ridley patient is taken and injected directly into the injured lung. The goal is that the injected blood will create a blood clot that will patch the tear in the lung. After the sedation became effective, a bronchoscopy was done to visualize the lungs and locate the exact location of the lung tear. From there, Dr. Jamie and Dr. Lauren were able to insert a very small needle through the carapace and using more x-ray imaging, were able to inject the donor blood directly into the collapsed lung. After the procedure was completed, Taurus was given a reversal to the sedation and was more alert within the hour. Taurus was left to rest comfortably in a foam-padded bin for the remainder of the day.
While Taurus has a highly guarded prognosis, we have seen vast improvements over the last month. They spent the first few weeks post-procedure in a floating kiddie pool so that they could swim and be supported by water, and also so they did not over inflate their lungs and potentially undo the blood patch that appeared to be holding steady. Follow up x-rays were taken and some of the free air was removed a few days following the procedure. After about two weeks in the kiddie pool, Taurus was graduated to a very shallow water tank and has been able to dive and rest on the bottom. They also have a very big appetite and are eating really well! Taurus is continuing their antibiotics to make sure the pneumonia resolves and will also receive another CT scan in the coming weeks. Taurus’s prognosis is still guarded, but we are hopeful that things are moving in the right direction.
January 15, 2023: Taurus has improved substantially since our most recent update! We have been able to slowly increase their tank over the past few weeks and it appears that the blood patch is holding steady. We do not want to increase the water level too quickly to prevent them from over-inflating their lungs as they heal. Taurus is now on a maintenance diet but had their antibiotics extended to help resolve the pneumonia present in their lungs. We will be taking a follow up CT and x-rays in the coming weeks to see how their lungs are looking. Overall, all signs point to Taurus heading in the right direction!
February 15, 2023: Taurus continues to amaze us with their recovery! Since the last update, they have completed their antibiotic series, and we have been able to increase them to a full tank level with no buoyancy issues! These are all great signs indicating that the blood patch procedure has proven successful so far. We will follow up with diagnostic tests to confirm that the lungs are in fact healing as well as we’ve hoped.
March 15, 2023: Taurus was pulled today to evaluate bloodwork and take follow-up radiographs to evaluate the condition of their lung since the blood patch repair was performed a few months ago. They have been active, gaining weight and showing no signs of buoyancy or complications so we have been optimistic about their healing.
April 15, 2023: Surprise! Taurus was released this week in Florida at Little Talbot Island State Park. Water temperatures in South Carolina are still slightly chilly, so we took them and six other turtles down to warmer waters! Wish them good luck!