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Taking care of Lucy

The CT scan machine was not designed for patients with flippers. And yet, here lay Lucy, a 150-pound, 3-foot long loggerhead turtle.

By SARAH MISHKIN
Published May 25, 2007


TAMPA -- The CT scan machine was not designed for patients with flippers. And yet, here lay Lucy, a 150-pound, 3-foot long loggerhead turtle, coaxed into cooperation with a few shots of sedative and a couple of lengths of duct tape.

"This is fancy tape, fancy medical grade tape," Ilze Berzins, a veterinarian at Tampa's Florida Aquarium, said as she tore off long strips of blue duct tape to secure the 150-pound injured sea turtle to the machine. Lucy fought back - things with flippers were not designed for CT scans, either - and broke free of the tape. Her handlers reached for another shot of sedative.

The sea turtle Lucy cannot move her back two legs, and her handlers at the Florida Aquarium had carried her to Florida Veterinary Specialists to get a CT scan of a 2-centimeter deep gouge left on her shell by a boat prop. The injury may have partially paralyzed the turtle, and veterinarians at the Aquarium's program for rehabilitating wild turtles needed to figure out whether Lucy could be released back into the ocean. The turtle - whose gender is actually unknown, though her handlers refer to her as a girl - was found  last August near St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant on Hutchinson Island.

Aquarium veterinary technician Susan Coy said Lucy was a fighter of a turtle, having survived in the wild for a least a year despite her injury.

"They don't have personality because they're not people, but they do have attitud, " she said. "Some are a little calmer, some are a little feistier."

Aquatics medicine of this sort is a fairly new discipline, said Berzins, the vice president of biological operations at the aquarium, and some aspects of Lucy's examination, such as how much sedative would be needed, and what CT scan setting would produce the clearest images, were trial-and-error. The scan revealed that the prop wound did impact the area around her spinal cord, though an MRI would be needed to more accurately assess the state of the soft tissue surrounding her vertebrate.

"The defect...comes into very close contact with her spinal cord, so there was some damage," said Wendy Gwin, a radiologist at FVS, "but we don't know exactly."

Sarah Mishkin can be reached at smishkin@sptimes.com or 813 225 3110.