USF Health partners with The Florida Aquarium to help diagnose rescued sea turtle, confirm healing

Tampa, Fla. (Aug. 27, 2014) — The Florida Aquarium’s rescued sea turtle Freud took another trip to USF Health for a second round of high-tech diagnostic help — this time using USF Health Radiology’s state-of-the-art advanced imaging systems.

Freud, an endangered green sea turtle was found lethargic, bloated and covered in algae on Navarre Beach in November 2012. He was then transferred to The Florida Aquarium in January.  Suffering from a suspected a tear in his lung, Freud was taken to the USF Health’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS) facility in December 2013. The Aquarium vet staff, along with faculty members from USF Health Radiology, and Dr. Luis Llerena, medical director of CAMLS Surgical and Interventional Training Center, performed a CT scan and bronchoscopy on Freud to see if there were any injuries potentially causing air to fill his body and impeding the sea turtle’s ability to swim.

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Freud, the rescued green sea turtle, arrives at the USF Health South Tampa Center for Advanced Healthcare for CT imaging to verify whether his injury had healed.

When no obvious signs of damage appeared on the bronchoscopy, the CT scans were taken back to USF Health Radiology for further analysis. A team from the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s Department of Radiology including Dr. Summer Decker, director of imaging research and assistant professor;  Dr. Todd Hazelton, professor and chairman; and Dr. Jonathan Ford, biomedical engineer, analyzed the scans and created three-dimensional models of Freud’s lungs to visualize the extent of the damage. Working with sea turtle expert Dr. Doug Mader of the Marathon Sea Turtle Hospital, it was determined that Freud had a bronchopleural fistula, an abnormal connection between the small air tubes of lung and the space around the lung. The Florida Aquarium and USF Health Radiology collaborated to create a treatment plan for Freud’s recovery.

Since the diagnosis was confirmed in January, The Florida Aquarium team has been working with Freud on his recovery and in the recent months saw huge improvements in his swimming abilities. Whereas he was previously seen floating on the surface, Freud was now able to swim to the bottom of the tank and glide across the water effortlessly.

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Susan Coy, a veterinary technician with The Florida Aquarium, positions Freud as Dr. Summer Decker of USF Health Radiology looks on.

The Florida Aquarium veterinarian, Kathy Heym explains: “We had been monitoring some slight progress in Freud’s rehabilitation and felt confident that he was slowly getting better.  It wasn’t until a couple months ago when we first noticed that he was able to rest comfortably at the bottom of the tank that I knew we needed to get him back to USF Health for a follow-up CT scan.”

Up until this point Freud was barely able to dive underwater so seeing him resting at the bottom was a huge accomplishment in itself, but because the tear in his lung was so small, the staff at The Florida Aquarium was unable to make a definite diagnosis stating he was completely healed. The Aquarium once again reached out to their partners at USF Health Radiology for help.

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Setting the target for the CT scan.

The team set up another CT scan but this time at the USF Health South Tampa Center for Advanced Healthcare  imaging facility on the Tampa General Hospital campus. They wanted to determine if Freud’s fistula had completely healed, making it possible to release him back into the wild.

“The advanced imaging technology here at USF Health combined with the amazing teamwork between USF Health and The Florida Aquarium played a vital role in making sure Freud would have the best possible chance to recover. We couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome and opportunity to work alongside our friends and collaborators at the Aquarium. This has truly been a team effort,” said Dr. Decker, the USF Health Radiology team leader on the project.

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The CT scans confirmed that Freud’s injury has completely healed with minor residual scarring, so he can now safely be released back into the wild.  The Florida Aquarium team is working with Florida Fish and Wildlife on determining when and where Freud’s release will take place, but this is a huge accomplishment for The Florida Aquarium and USF Health partnership.

“We simply couldn’t have done it without the help of our friends at USF Health” said Heym. “Freud’s success is due in a large part to their willingness to utilize their equipment and expertise to help us make a proper diagnosis and develop a plan of action to successfully treat this turtle. We are extremely thankful for their support.”

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Dr. Jonathan Ford, biomedical engineer, and Dr. Decker examine a 3D model of Freud’s lungs.

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L to R: Dr. Todd Hazelton, professor and chairman of the USF Health Department of Radiology; Dr. Summer Decker, director of imaging research and assistant professor of radiology; Kathy Heym, The Florida Aquarium veterinarian; and Susan Coy, veterinary technician.

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Now that Freud’s injury has completely healed with minor residual scarring, The Florida Aquarium is working with Florida Fish and Wildlife to determine when and where the endangered sea turtle’s release will take place.

Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications

About The Florida Aquarium:
The Florida Aquarium is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit institution whose mission is to entertain, educate and inspire stewardship about our natural environment. The Florida Aquarium is home to more than 20,000 aquatic plants and animals representing species from Florida and around the world.

About USF Health:
USF Health’s mission is to envision and implement the future of health. It is the partnership of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, the College of Nursing, the College of Public Health, the College of Pharmacy, the School of Biomedical Sciences and the School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences; and the USF Physician’s Group. The University of South Florida is a Top 50 research university in total research expenditures among both public and private institutions nationwide, according to the National Science Foundation. For more information, visit www.health.usf.edu

Media contacts:
Katherine Claytor, The Florida Aquarium: 813-486-1645, kclaytor@flaquarium.org
Anne DeLotto Baier, USF Health Communications: 813- 974-3303, abaier@health.usf.edu