By Ruth Thompson
GateHouse News Service
Things continue to look up for Patty as she makes a slow recovery from the brink of death at the National Marine Life Center (NMLC).
The diamondback terrapin turtle was brought to the NMLC in March 2009 after having been cold stunned by the frigid temperatures of winter water. At the time, she was immobilized by shock, blinded by burst blood vessels in her eyes, and her rear legs were partially paralyzed.
Diamondback terrapins are on endangered species list in Massachusetts.
Turtles that are cold stunned often die, and Patty’s prognosis at the time was questionable.
She responded well to treatments that included antibiotics, physical therapy, a hearty, healthy diet and plenty of rest and relaxation.
A serious bone infection she developed is also improving.
“Her shell is starting to grow back,” NMLC President and Executive Director Kathy Zagzebski said. “You can see the pigment coming back.”
Zagzebski explained the shell of a turtle is actually bone, and on top of the bone is a layer of skin, the pigment of the shell is the skin, and on top of the skin is the keratin, which is much like the human fingernail. Below the shell is another layer of skin, and below that is more bone.
“It’s the lower layer of bone that is growing back,” Zagzebski said.
When Patty was found frozen and brought to the NMLC by Don “The Turtle Guy” Lewis, the blood supply to the bone had been cut off and the bone started dying.
“She lost 95 percent of her top shell,” Zagzebski said.
In order to prevent further infection, the dead skin and bone had to be removed.
Patty receives a gentle scrub with antibiotics every day, which is followed by an antibiotic-laced dressing being placed over her shell. The water in her tank is changed daily, and the rocks inside the tank are also cleaned to make sure there is nothing within her habitat that could make her sick.
“It’s very critical we make sure she does not get an internal infection,” Zagzebski said.
Because of the loss of bone and skin, Patty’s shell has a pinkish hue to it.
“I don’t think she’ll ever look normal, but we want the bone to grow thick enough to protect her in the wild,” Zagzebski said.
The objective of the NMLC is to return animals to their natural environment once they are fully recovered and rehabilitated and able to care for themselves on their own.
As for Patty, there’s more good news: she’ll soon be moving into a larger tank outside of the exam room.
“It has a bigger filtration system,” Zagzebski said.
And that will allow for more room to stretch those legs.
Another area of improvement for Patty is her mobility.
“She can move very well,” Zagzebski said.
She is regularly tested to see how she fares in deeper water, and while she’s not ready for the ocean’s depths, Zagzebski said she is in double the amount of water she was in last spring.
“That’s a good sign,” she said. “She can move well and walk well, though she’s not swimming at 100 percent yet.”
There’s optimism that Patty will eventually be back 100 percent, especially if her appetite stays strong.
According to Zagzebski, Patty consumes up to two pounds of cohogs every week (weight is based on cohogs in their shells).
“Patty would really appreciate anyone able to donate cohogs,” Zagzebski said.
Yet while Patty is definitely moving in the right direction, Zagzebski said she will be a long-term patient at the NMLC.
It could be five years before she is ready to be released back into the wild.
In the meantime, Patty remains the darling of the NMLC community with staff members, volunteers and visitors all looking after her and wishing her well.
Patty isn’t the only turtle at the NMLC currently being nursed back to health.
In a private room off the maze of corridors in the NMLC building, Catch-22 is also settling in nicely to his surroundings as he is being treated for legions on his shell.
Catch-22 is a northern red-bellied cooter.
He was part of the Head Start program sponsored by the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. The program collects 100 hatchlings and places them with partner organizations – wildlife centers, zoos, schools – that care for the hatchlings over the winter months following specific guidelines.
The hatchlings remain awake through the winter and are given all the lettuce and vitamins they can eat.
Zagzebski said they put on the equivalent of three years of growth, so they have a greater chance of survival twhen they are released back into the wild.
Northern red-bellied cooters are a freshwater species indigenous to Plymouth County.
They are on the endangered list at both the state and federal level.
Before they are released around Memorial Day, the hatchlings are turned back over to the state from the partner organizations, where they are measured and weighted and checked for any potential health issues.
Zagzebski said the state asked the NMLC to examine Catch-22, named as such because his ID number was 22.
“He had some other issues,” she said, adding that he seemed weak and his mouth was continuously open.
As part of the procedure for evaluating new patients, Zagzebski said Catch-22 was X-rayed as part of his full exam.
His X-ray revealed that he had swallowed a staple.
“That can be really dangerous as it moves through his system,” Zagzebski said.
The veterinarian felt surgery to remove the staple would be too dangerous, so it was suggested Catch-22 be tube fed a lettuce and oil concoction to help lubricate his insides.
“The staple passed through without any internal damage,” Zagzebski said.
She said Catch-22 could have been stationed beneath a bulletin board, where a staple fell into his tank, as a possible explanation of how the turtle could have ended up with a staple in his innards.
“Turtles will try to eat anything in their environment,” she said. “We have to be really careful about their environment.”
As for the legions on his shell, a biopsy revealed it’s a superficial fungal infection.
He is being treated with the antibiotic scrub.
Zagzebski said the legions are already starting to heal and the diseased pieces are falling off.
“It does not go to the bone,” she said.
Despite Catch-22 being rather shy, which is why is he being kept in a somewhat out-of-the-way spot, Zagzebski said he’s doing really well, especially since passing the staple.
“He’s doing really well,” she said.
NMLC staff are just waiting on lab results to make sure there are no serious issues with Catch-22; if not, he’ll be released back into the wild.
“Hopefully before it gets too cold,” Zagzebski said. “The worse case scenario is we’ll keep him here over the winter and release him in the spring.”
Source: Wicked Local
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