LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Little Rock Zoo) - It's not every day that Dr. Brian Burton gets a call to perform a surgery on a 44-year-old female orangutan but when presented with the opportunity to do so he gladly accepted the challenge. Dr. Burton, an OB/GYN with The Women's Clinic, P.A. in Little Rock specializes in minimally invasive gynecological surgery which made him a perfect candidate to perform Chiquita the orangutan's surgery.
According to Zoo Veterinarian, Dr. Kim Rainwater, Chiquita previously had a fluid filled cyst, or benign mass, on her ovary that was previously drained. Zoo staff noticed that her abdominal area had swollen again and were suspicious that the cyst had returned. Rather than drain the mass once again, Dr. Rainwater sought a more permanent solution by removing the mass.
Surgery has its own set of risk factors but healing from surgery can be especially tricky for great apes like Chiquita. Many apes and other primates will pick at surgical incisions which can lead to infection and further complications. That's why Dr. Rainwater looked for an OB/GYN surgeon skilled in laparoscopic surgery. Unlike conventional surgery, laparoscopic surgery leaves minimal incisions for a curious orangutan to pick at.
Dr. Rainwater first called Radiologist Dr. Kevin Forte, who helped diagnose the mass in Chiquita, to ask for a recommendation of a surgeon to assist with the surgery. He led her to Dr. Julia Watkins with the West Little Rock Women's Center who then recommended Dr. Burton. Dr. Watkins was also present to assist with Chiquita's surgery and was honored to help Chiquita and the Zoo.
"It was fun to get to go behind the scenes, see how things work, and meet the people who make the zoo function so well. It was also incredibly satisfying to be able to use what I've learned in my career to make a difference in the life of an animal," said Watkins.
Anesthesiologists, Drs. Harjot and Lydia Hunjan, were called upon to assist Dr. Rainwater with anesthesia. Drs. Watkins and Burton also called on Ryan Harvey with Stryker to provide the endoscopic equipment needed for the surgery. The team arrived early last Tuesday morning and performed the surgery.
While the surgery team prepped for Chiquita's arrival, Dr. Rainwater sedated Chiquita and Zoo staff moved her from her Zoo habitat to the vet hospital where she was weighed and prepped for surgery. The team shaved Chiquita's long orange/red hair from her belly to gain access to her abdomen.
After beginning the surgical procedure, an umbilical hernia was found that needed to be repaired. Further examination of Chiquita also revealed that the ovarian cyst was no longer present. Dr. Burton then called Dr. Eric Paul, a general surgeon with Surgical Clinic Arkansas trained in laparoscopic surgery and bariatric surgery, to assist with the repair of the hernia.
Dr. Rainwater says Chiquita is doing fine and has recovered well from the surgery. Her keepers report that she is eating normally and is back outside enjoying the outdoors. Dr. Rainwater notes that Chiquita's quick recovery time can be credited to the use of minimally invasive surgery and the use of properly dosed anesthesia. "I'm grateful to Stryker for donating the equipment and to the doctors and staff for helping to make this procedure a success," said Dr. Rainwater.
Dr. Rainwater specifically sought the help of anesthesiologists to assist her with Chiquita's procedure. Dr. Lydia Hunjan was especially grateful for the opportunity to assist Dr. Rainwater and for the opportunity to help Chiquita and the Little Rock Zoo.
"I was able to meet with Zoo staff days in advance in order to make a safe anesthetic plan tailored to Chiquita's needs for undergoing general anesthesia, maintaining it safely, & emerging her immediately into her home with Rok where she would feel safe & secure. The entire Little Rock Zoo staff made us feel comfortable and were eager to help in every way. We feel Chiquita gave more back to us than we could ever give to her. It was a humbling experience in love & medicine we will never forget," said Dr. Hunjan.
The doctors and staff who assisted with the surgery were equally as excited about their participation. Dr. Watkins remarked that the surgery was one of the highlights of her career. When asked about some of the similarities and differences between Chiquita's surgery and surgeries she's performed on human females, Dr. Watkins said that one of the biggest differences in operating on Chiquita was the hard work it took to get her to the operating room.
"Chiquita had to be sedated just to get her into the OR, and then the team had to work fast to get IV access and get her intubated before the sedation started to wear off. The surgery prep was also different because of the long hair all over her body. Her pelvis was also much smaller than a human's and her arms were longer than a human's arms so instead of putting her arms at her sides, we laid them on top of her legs. They were out of our way, and in the normal anatomic position for her," said Dr. Watkins.
Watkins said once access was gained by the laparoscope it wasn't much different than operating on a human. Watkins says she was "amazed by Chiquita's beauty" and can't wait to help the Zoo again.
Dr. Burton had similar sentiment for the Zoo saying that he was "absolutely excited to help Chiquita and the Zoo." Dr. Burton and his wife have three children and his family have been members of the Zoo for several years and says that the great apes are a family favorite. When he heard about Chiquita's story he said he knew he could help her and knew that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so.
Dr. Burton says he hopes this shows other potential sponsors and donors that the Little Rock Zoo can do big things when given the chance. "I hope this exposure shows other people that we can all help in some way," said Burton. Burton says he looks forward to staying in touch with the Zoo and offering his services again.
Chiquita is a 44-year-old orangutan living at the Zoo since 2006. She was born in 1969 at the Toledo Zoo and has lived at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo before making her home at the Little Rock Zoo. Chiquita resides with Rok, a 28-year-old male orangutan living at the Zoo since 1988. .
All Staff participating in the surgery included:
• Operating Room Nurses, Pam Wood, Holly Carmen, Monica Smith and John Morris
• Anesthesiologists: Harjot and Lydia Hunjan, M.D. with Baptist Health
• Stryker Endoscopy: Ryan Harvey and Craig Carey
• General Surgeon: Eric Paul, M.D. with Surgical Clinic Arkansas
• Brian Burton, M.D. OB/GYN with The Woman's Clinic, P.A.
• Julia Watkins, M.D. OB/GYN with Little Rock Women's Center
• Kimberly Rainwater, D.V.M. with the Little Rock Zoo
• Ashley Davenport, Veterinary Technician with the Little Rock Zoo
• Keepers with the Little Rock Zoo: Ann Rademacher, Catherine Hopkins, Daphne Brock Pfeifer
• Marci Polett, Zoo Intern
• Sydney Tanner, Curator of Primates
• Addie Olson, D.V.M. with Interstate Animal Clinic and After Hours Animal Hospital
Orangutan Caring Day
In celebration of Orangutan Awareness Week, the Little Rock Zoo will celebrate Orangutan Caring Day this Saturday, November 16, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The Zoo's Education Department will host activities at the top of the great ape display and guests are encouraged to wear funky hair-dos and outfits with the color orange in support of orangutan conservation to be entered into a drawing for orangutan themed prizes.
The Little Rock Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you and a better future for all living things. With its more than 200 accredited members, AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation and your link to helping animals in their native habitats. For more information, visit www.aza.org.