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Posted: December 27, 2013

Hyperbaric chamber helps revive green turtle

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy used to treat sea turtle's bone infection.

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            Hyperbaric chamber helps revive green turtle
Flounder, a juvenile green turtle, receives hyperbaric therapy at the Jupiter Pet Emergency & Specialty Center, December 10, 2013.
2013 Turtle Season
X-rays of Flounder taken at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, December 10, 2013. The turtle has a bone infection preventing it from moving its right front flipper. (Greg Lovett/The Palm Beach Post)
2013 Turtle Season
Flounder, a juvenile green turtle, is carried out of the hyperbaric chamber at the Jupiter Pet Emergency & Specialty Center, December 10, 2013. Flounder, who is suffering from a bone infection, received 10 treatments at the center recently. (Greg Lovett/The Palm Beach Post)

By Sonja Isger

JUNO BEACH, Fla. —

Antibiotics alone failed to fix Flounder’s limp flipper. A bone infection has gripped the green turtle, confining her to swimming meandering laps in a pool rather than free in the sea.

So the folks caring for the green turtle at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, Fla., came up with a new line of treatment.

They loaded her daily into their turtle ambulance and drove her seven miles to a veterinary office where they “submerged” her in a pet-size hyperbaric chamber for roughly an hour at a time.

Flounder was the Jupiter Pet Emergency & Specialty Center’s first turtle, but the move isn’t without precedent.

Hyperbaric treatments aided the loggerhead turtle Kahuna’s recovery two years ago. Kahuna had been bitten by a shark and infection followed. The antibiotics would appear to work, but when the flow of medicine stopped, the infection returned … until they tried the hyperbaric chamber.

“Ten treatments and the infection went away and never came back,” said Charles Manire, Marinelife Center’s director of research and rehabilitation. Kahuna was returned to the sea.

Greens, like loggerheads, live in tropical and subtropical coastal waters. They’re named not for their shells, which are brown, but for their greenish skin.

They can grow to up to 700 pounds, but Flounder is about the size of a hubcap. She was found near Daytona Beach, Fla., in April.

She was sick and her infection hasn’t responded well to antibiotics.

The hyperbaric chamber, which resembles an oversize water heater with submarine-like windows on its side and images of sea-critters on the outside, creates an oxygen-rich environment.

The increased pressure within drives that oxygen into Flounder’s body in a way simply breathing it can’t, said Dr. Frederico Lattimer at the Jupiter Pet Emergency Center.

Oxygen is the stuff of healing. And when it’s forced into her body in such quantities, it lingers in her system, releasing the healing element for hours.

Of course, first Flounder has had to wait her turn … sometimes in a line of household dogs and cats.

Flounder last week completed 10 treatments in five days.

Flounder is using her flipper a little more than before, Manire said. But he doesn’t expect to see real improvement, the kind that can be gauged on an X-ray, possibly for weeks.

“There’s no book written or even paper written on how to do this. We have to kind of make it up as we go or extrapolate from other animals,” Manire said. “It’s a trial and error sort of thing.”

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