Operation Mufasa Smile
Feb 23, 2012
From the Recovery Room
Ryan Rothenbuhler DVM, MS
A few weeks ago, I got an email that I was not really prepared for. I had been communicating with the executive director of Black Pines Animal Sanctuary, Lori Gagen, regarding donations to the park for animal feed. I was now being asked to come help them x-ray the jaw of their resident male lion Mufasa because he had a draining tract. They had established a team of people from all around Indiana and Ohio to work on Mufasa, but they needed someone with portable x-ray equipment .
|Teamwork at Black Pine
Lori had put together an amazing group of volunteers consisting of medical doctors and veterinary doctors. They had a dentist, an oral surgeon, a DVM from Ohio, and their two local DVMs. In addition to the medical and veterinary personnel, there were going to be some of the biggest advocates for exotic animal rescue around the country. A group of volunteers who work with FEMA regarding moving exotic animals and rescue attempts were going to be in attendance as well. Tim Harrison, star of the movie "The Elephant in the Living Room", was joining the effort as well. This was going to be an experience.
Mufasa had been rescued earlier in 2011 and had a history of having a draining tract in his jaw for the last 6-7 years. They suspected a bad tooth. Immediately "What Ifs" started rolling through my head. The procedure was weeks away and I had a ton of questions. Not that I don't think oral surgeons, dentists, and medical doctors were qualified to be participating, but what did they know about working on animals. If you have a bad tooth or an abscess, they open it up, debride it, remove the tooth and send you home with antibiotics and instructions to call if you had problems. We were going to be working on a lion who could not talk and more than likely wasn't going to just let them peak at it daily and make sure everything was healing ok. What kind of antibiotics were they going to put him on? If there was a major defect in the mandible would they pack it with antibiotic impregnated plaster of paris? Was he going to need multiple anesthesia's and surgeries for debridement? Follow-up exams? More radiographs?
While I was super excited to be volunteering my time, Dr. Koontz had concerns about having his head of surgery working on a lion that could eat me in one bite. I assured him that I had no fear and that the appointed group of veterinarians was fully qualified to anesthetize Mufasa, we had nothing to worry about.
A few days before we were scheduled to be working on Mufasa, Lori informed me that some of the veterinarians would be unable to participate, and that I was going to be lead surgeon. Dr. Taylor would run anesthesia and Dr. Kumaran would be available as well, but we were it. The team of so many different people was now three strong. I also learned that Tarzan, their resident chimpanzee, had swollen gums and was not eating. We were going to have to start earlier and work on him first. I decided at that point that I was bringing along Dr. Couture from our hospital. We needed as many veterinary hands there as possible. None of us knew what we were going to find.
Transporting Tarzan to surgery
Once we got started all of my fear vanished. Tissue was tissue and this was not going to be any different. We got Tarzan intubated and on gas anesthesia. Once he was under anesthesia and the fear of a sedated pissed off chimpanzee had vanished, I had a minute to reflect on what I was working on. I was working on a chimpanzee, the animal that most closely resembled humans. To touch his hands was almost creepy. They looked amazingly similar. The technician, Kelly, and Dr. Taylor worked on collecting bloodwork and lab samples for testing. I grabbed the dental instruments and with the help of Dr. Kumaran we went to work on his mouth. We immediately found a broken canine which I removed and cleaned out the socket. The surgery was done within minutes. We helped finish up the diagnostics before moving Tarzan back to his enclosure.
|Oral surgery on Mufasa
Once we were all done, the room's atmosphere completely changed. It went from excited with a little bit of fear, to a room full of joy and happiness. Everyone had to take their picture with Mufasa because where else did you get an opportunity to place your hands around the neck of an African Lion and not have the fear of being eaten? Where else could you place your hand next to a paw that was close to the size of your head? At one point I had to remind the room (now with approximately 20-30 people) that we had a recovering lion in the room that was going to wake up with a very big headache and we really needed to keep things quiet. Everyone was ecstatic that it had gone so smoothly. Both surgeries had been completed with little consequences.
All from a simple email and a shot in the dark, I got to have one of the best days in my life as a veterinarian. I had worked on horses my entire veterinary career and in a few short hours I had worked on Tarzan and Mufasa. To top it off, the best part of this whole story is the fact that a group of volunteers and professionals that had never worked together became a team on this weekend and successfully treated Tarzan and Mufasa.