Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)
Stranding Location: Charleston Harbor Shipping Channel, Charleston SC
Arrival Date: 2/14/20
Weight: 5.7 lbs (2.61 kg)
During the early morning hours of Valentine’s Day, Valentine (Val for short) was sucked up in the hopper dredge that is currently dredging the Charleston Harbor Shipping Channel. She was found by observers aboard a hopper dredge. She was pulled up from about 45 feet deep, in sandy, muddy sediment. An observer transported her to the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Care Center around 9 am for emergency treatment.
Our biggest concern (one of many) was that Val could be suffering from decompression sickness because she was pulled up to surface level rapidly from a depth of 45 feet. Dr. Boylan immediately took her into CT to look for gas emboli in her organs, which would indicate decompression sickness that is life threatening if not treated quickly. While the images processed, she was given a full physical exam and we administered pain medication and sedation to help make her more comfortable. Val had a severe fracture along her spine, many abrasions and wounds, a fracture on her plastron, and her eyes were bleeding and full of sandy silt. Val was also missing her right rear flipper, but that appeared to be from previous trauma before the dredge. Dr. Boylan was able to diagnose decompression sickness using the CT imaging; she had large gas emboli (bubbles) in her kidneys, renal arteries, and around her intestines. The fracture on her shell also appeared to damage her spine. After administering fluids, antibiotics, vitamins, and cleaning her wounds, vet staff pulled blood and let her rest while we decided on a plan of action.
We quickly found a decompression chamber at the Veterinary Specialty Care Center in Mt. Pleasant, SC. Dr. Heather Moore spent an hour and a half with us treating Val in the chamber. When we got back to SCA, CT imaging showed little improvement in the size and number of the emboli. So, Val spent the night in an oxygen chamber we made from a Yeti cooler, that was donated to us from Yeti last year, to try oxygen therapy. Given the multiple fractures, gas emboli throughout various organs, and severe spinal trauma, Valentine’s prognosis is extremely poor.
February 15, 2020: Val was about the same the next morning, but CT imaging showed about an 80% improvement in the size and number of gas emboli. The oxygen therapy worked! We also injected stem cells directly into her damaged spinal cord to hopefully help speed up the healing process. She got a few more medications today, and spent the rest of the day in the oxygen chamber to hopefully get rid of the remaining gas bubbles. Val’s prognosis is poor and very guarded, so send good vibes her way! She needs our positive thoughts now, more than ever.
February 28, 2020: Over the past two weeks, Valentine has been our most critical patient and our vet team has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at her in an effort to save her. She spent the first several days receiving fluid therapy, oxygen therapy, received multiple CT scans, pain management drugs and daily bandage changes. We even used wound V.A.C® (vacuum assisted closure) therapy over her vertebral scute fractures to help remove silt, mud and other debris. This week, we tried Val out in a shallow water tank to make her feel more comfortable, but also to assess the use of her rear flipper. Val is already at a disadvantage due to the fact that she only has one rear flipper. We will need to give it some time to see if reducing the inflammation around the spinal injury, and introducing stem cells to the wound, will improve her condition. Currently, she is set up in a floating kiddie pool that is attached to the tank and allows her to be in filtered water. We are doing supervised swim therapy with her daily, but she is still too weak to be left in the tank without the kiddie pool. She is beginning to show a little interest in food, but not much. Her vision is still affected as her eyes are continuing to slough off what appears to be corneal tissue with remaining silt. We are hoping her vision will continue to improve as her eyes heal. Valentine is a fighter and we hope to see an improvement; however, given the extent of her injuries, her prognosis is still very poor and highly guarded.