Endangered Sea Turtle Returns to the Wild After Rescue, Rehabilitation and Revolutionary Medical Treatmen

August 3, 2011 – Juno Beach, Fla. – Nearly 1,500 onlookers watched as “Andre,” an endangered green sea turtle, made his way back into the ocean today after 414 days of rehabilitation at Loggerhead Marinelife Center. Andre’s journey back to health included the use of medical technology never before used on an animal. Released in the peak of green sea turtle nesting season, veterinarians are hopeful that the 176.88 pound male turtle will mate now that he’s back in the wild.

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People commuted from hours away to witness Andre’s release, which took place on the beach adjacent to Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, FL, about 1.5 miles from where the turtle first stranded with multiple boat strike injuries. Andre’s final moments on shore included shouts of excitement from some and tears of joy from others. The sea turtle the crowd saw off today was in much different shape than when he first stranded over a year ago. At that time, Andre’s body cavity was exposed and he was in critical condition.

Loggerhead Marinelife Center, whose mission is to promote conservation of Florida’s coastal ecosystems with a special focus on threatened and endangered sea turtles, responded to the scene on June 15, 2010 after being alerted by concerned beachgoers. Staff veterinarian Nancy Mettee, D.V.M., performed an initial exam, noting the turtle’s guarded prognosis (video link). There were over three pounds of sand weighing on Andre’s organs causing severe displacement and infection. He also had a collapsed lung, pneumonia and a badly damaged shell.

Mettee reached out to a colleague at a nearby hospital for guidance and was directed to a representative from Kinetic Concepts Inc. (KCI), a San Antonio-based company that specializes in technologies and therapies designed to make wound healing manageable for caregivers and more comfortable for patients.  KCI worked with Dr. Mettee on the first ever implantation of Strattice Reconstructive Tissue Matrix in an animal.  Strattice is an acellular dermal matrix that acted as a scaffold until Andre’s wounds were revascularized and repopulated with the turtle’s own functional, living tissue.

“Strattice has improved the outcomes of patients all around the world, but until Andre, it had never been implanted in an animal,” said Dr. Ron Silverman, chief medical officer, KCI.  “Seeing any patient heal and return to an improved quality of life is very rewarding for our company, which is committed to harnessing the body’s power to restore and regenerate.”

Additionally, while not intended for use on underwater animals, KCI’s V.A.C.® Therapy proved instrumental in helping Andre’s wounds heal.  V.A.C.® Therapy promotes healing by delivering negative pressure at the wound site. KCI’s team worked with Loggerhead Marinelife Center to retrofit the device to ensure its effectiveness in Andre’s underwater environment.

“We were charting new territory here,” said Dr. Mettee. “We knew Strattice was highly effective in human patients, but Andre’s wounds were unique and severe. It’s clear that Strattice, along with the use of KCI’s V.A.C.® Therapy, saved Andre’s life.”

With the turtle’s infection steadily resolving, Dr. Mettee and her team began brainstorming ways to repair the gaping defects in Andre’s shell. “We needed something to create tension in some areas of the carapace and movement in other areas,” said Dr. Mettee. “Orthodontics have this effect within humans skulls, so I thought application to a sea turtle’s shell may have similar results.” To her knowledge, it would be the first time orthodontics were ever used to help manipulate fractures in a sea turtle’s shell.

Alberto A. Vargas, DMD, MS, of Vargas Orthodontics in Jupiter, Fla. heard about the project from a colleague and became immediately interested in donating his services. Dr. Vargas’ team took molds of Andre’s shell to create custom fixtures, just like they would to treat a human patient. Loggerhead Marinelife Center and Vargas Orthodontics created a treatment plan.

Andre received six orthodontic appliances on Feb. 15, 2011 with the help of Drs. Mettee and Vargas and their colleagues. Of those appliances, four were aimed at pulling parts of Andre’s shell together while two were aimed at pushing apart the shell to increase growth. The largest appliance measured 9.5 centimeters. Also called palate expanders, Loggerhead Marinelife Center rehabilitation employees used keys to rotate the six parts until they reached resistance each day. The appliances were removed in May 2011, resulting in as much as two centimeters of closure in some areas.

In the past year, over 200 people have adopted the turtle from 25 states in the U.S., and countries as far away as Germany, France, Belgium and Luxembourg. Similarly, people from all over the world have logged on to watch Andre’s progress over a live webcam stationed above his tank. Others have mailed in stacks of get well cards.

“The moment was bitter sweet,” said Melissa Ranly, Hospital Coordinator at Loggerhead Marinelife Center, as tears streamed down her face. Ranly was one of the people who responded to the scene to rescue Andre 414 days ago. “In my 15 years of experience in marine life rehabilitation, Andre stands out.” She continued, “Seeing these sea turtles return to the wild is what we get up for in the morning. It’s just hard to say goodbye.”

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About Loggerhead Marinelife Center:

Loggerhead Marinelife Center, a non-profit organization, is committed to the conservation of Florida’s coastal ecosystems through public education, research and rehabilitation with a focus on threatened and endangered sea turtles. The center features an on-site campus hospital, learning exhibits and aquariums. Situated on the world’s most important sea turtle nesting beach, Loggerhead Marinelife Center is open daily and plays host to over 200,000 visitors each year. For more information, visit www.marinelife.org or call 561-627-8280.


About KCI:

Kinetic Concepts, Inc. (NYSE:KCI) is a leading global medical technology company devoted to the discovery, development, manufacture and marketing of innovative, high-technology therapies and products for the wound care, tissue regeneration and therapeutic support system markets. Headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, KCI’s success spans more than three decades and can be traced to a history deeply rooted in innovation and a passion for significantly improving the healing and the lives of patients around the world. The company employs approximately 7,100 people and markets its products in more than 20 countries. For more information about KCI and how its products are changing the practice of medicine, visit www.KCI1.com.


About Dr. Alberto A. Vargas:

Alberto A. Vargas, DMD, MS, of Vargas Orthodontics completed his DMD degree at Temple University School of Dentistry in 1998, and he completed his MS degree and Orthodontic Certificate from Temple University in 2001. Dr. Vargas completed his Advanced Education in General Dentistry at Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic. He is a member of the American Association of Orthodontists, Florida Association of Orthodontists, American Association of Dentists, and Florida Dental Association. He served as President of North Palm Beach County Dental Society and former Treasurer and Secretary of the Atlantic Coast District Dental Association. Currently, he is a Director of the FAO. He has been practicing in Jupiter, Florida since 2002.