Sea Turtle to Undergo Weeks of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in Experimental Procedure

     You Can Lead a Horse to Water, But Can You Lead a Sea Turtle to Land?

Loggerhead Marinelife Center Staff Veterinarian Dr. Nancy Mettee is hoping the creative application of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy may help heal one of the center’s largest patients in an experimental procedure. The quest to rehabilitate “Kahuna” has sparked an unlikely partnership between Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, FL, and the Equine Hyperbaric Center of South Florida at Reid and Associates in Loxahatchee, FL, who will play host to the sea turtle during regular treatments for over two weeks. The partnership arose after an employee of the Equine Hyperbaric Center of South Florida at Reid and Associates paid a guest visit to LMC. Although the agency routinely works with horses, the sea turtle’s condition struck a chord.

Kahuna is a female 183.15-pound adult Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) that first arrived at LMC on August 22, 2010 after being found near Hutchinson Island, FL. Her injuries were consistent with that of a shark attack, with approximately 60% of her left front flipper missing and several deep lacerations on her right front flipper. The turtle also had labored breathing possibly from aspirating sea water.

After nine months of rehabilitation treatment at LMC including daily nebulizations, antibiotics, vitamins, good nutritional support, and surgery to repair her right front flipper, the turtle’s future is still uncertain. Unresolved bone infection (osteomyelitis) is present in both front flippers, causing the turtle to become unstable without antibiotics. Working closely with Dr. Mettee, Palm Beach Equestrian Center will loan the use of their Hyperbaric Chamber to Kahuna in an effort to clear the turtle’s bone infection using Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.

The Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS) defines Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy as a treatment in which a patient breathes 100% oxygen intermittently while inside a treatment chamber at a pressure higher than sea level pressure. The UHMS says it can be viewed as the new application of an old, established technology to help resolve certain recalcitrant, expensive, or otherwise hopeless medical problems. Although the reason behind its success is not widely understood, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy has been used to treat bone infection in humans and other animals. Mettee is optimistic it will also be effective when used on the sea turtle.

The following indications are approved uses of hyperbaric oxygen therapy as defined by the UHMS Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Committee: Air or Gas Embolism; Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Complicated by Cyanide Poisoning); Clostridial Myositis and Myonecrosis (Gas Gangrene); Crush injury, compartment syndrome, and other acute traumatic ischemias; Decompression sickness; Arterial Insufficiencies (Central Retinal Artery Occlusion, Enhancement of Healing in Selected Problem Wounds); Severe Anemia; Intracranial Abscess; Necrotizing Soft Tissue Infections; Osteomyelitis (Refractory); Delayed Radiation Injury (Soft Tissue and Bony Necrosis); Compromised Grafts and Flaps; and Acute Thermal Burn Injury.

If you would like to adopt Kahuna in an effort to offset the costs associated with her rehabilitation, please visit Sea turtle adoptions start at $35 and include personalized certificates, photographs, and sea turtle information.