Saturday, January 21, 2006

CT Scan for dolphin

In a fish-out-of-water adventure, a 400-pound dolphin was trucked from Brookfield Zoo to Loyola University Medical Center for tests Tuesday evening.

More than two dozen keepers and veterinarians were involved in moving the dolphin -- which is actually a mammal -- so that zoo officials could use the hospital's CT scan machine to check the dolphin's lungs.

At eight-and-a-half-feet long, this was a Loyola visitor bigger than your average outpatient. The female dolphin arrived in the back of a yellow rental truck, escorted by zoo police in a two-and-a-half mile trip from Brookfield to Maywood.

She entered through the loading dock, her whistles and clicks echoed through the hospital's hallways. No one asked for her insurance card.

"How many dolphins have you done?" someone asked CT technician Willie Gandy.
"This is my first,'' he responded.

Fin made for a tight fit

Loyola officials had just one question when the zoo asked to use their machine: Would she fit?
The answer: Kind of -- her dorsal fin proved a bit tricky, but her body entered the CT scan far enough to check a lesion in her lung.

At the zoo, workers wrestled the 12-year-old dolphin, named Kaylee, out of the water and into a sling, then placed her in the truck.

Kaylee's keepers discovered the lesion following an unsuccessful pregnancy that ended with the premature death of Kaylee's calf in October.

Brookfield veterinarian Tom Meehan said the animal likely inhaled something, perhaps food, through her blowhole, causing the lesion. Vets have been treating it with antibiotics.

Last month, the zoo brought Kaylee to Loyola for the first time. The key to a successful hospital visit for the animal was to keep it wet, said Meehan. The workers constantly swabbed the animal with yellow sponges to keep her moist. Meehan said that while the truck was heated, dolphins are highly resistant to temperature change in short time periods because of the thick blubber that envelopes them.

Human doctors not a zoo first

"They don't lose heat through their skin like we do," he said.

The results of the CT scan will be analyzed today.

Meehan said the zoo might have used a portable cat scan but many of those typically available have been sent to New Orleans in the Hurricane Katrina aftermath.

Still, the zoo has consulted health officials in the past whose expertise is more people than critters: dentists have consulted on woodchuck teeth problems and an acupuncturist has helped sooth an aching camel.

Loyola, said Meehan, "has been wonderfully cooperative."

Two hours after Kaylee left Brookfield, she was returned to her pool and enjoyed a fish dinner.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"