Mystic, Conn. (September 29, 2017): Victoria, or Tori as she is better known at Mystic Aquarium, is on the mend after undergoing ophthalmic surgery to address a long-standing illness. Tori the harbor seal was admitted to Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Clinic in 2012 with several severe health issues. Suffering from a ruptured globe resulting in blindness in her left eye, ultimately it was determined that Mystic Aquarium would be her forever home.
Joining Mystic Aquarium’s social group of harbor seals, Tori’s overall health has been good. Over the years; however, she has also developed ocular disease in her right eye.
Like all the marine mammals, birds and reptiles at Mystic Aquarium, Tori receives health assessments and preventative examinations each month by the veterinary team. But it is often the day-to-day interaction and bond with trainers that provides the most insight into their health and behavior.
“I noticed that Tori was keeping both of her eyes closed more often and for extended periods of time throughout her day-to-day activities,” said Lindsey Nelson, Senior Trainer of Cetaceans & Pinnipeds and Tori’s lead Trainer. “Since closing her eyes, tightly at times, is a sign of discomfort, we wanted to look into options to help alleviate her discomfort.”
Unfortunately after a regimen of medication administered by the veterinarian did not seem to work, Dr. Jen Flower, Chief Clinical Veterinarian, began to explore surgical options.
It was determined that Tori’s right eye, affected with ocular disease, could be treated with the surgical placement of conjunctival flap over the cornea. In laymen’s terms, a flap of tissue was created from her own eyelid to help provide long term protection and healing to her eye. The conjunctival flap will remain indefinitely.
“This new tissue will restore the integrity of Tori’s cornea and bring new blood vessels to the area which will enable the cornea to heal and eliminate the discomfort,” said Dr. Flower. “We also placed a medicated implant under the right eyelid that will allow the slow release of medication over several months. Tori will not need the application of eye drops as a result.”
And because of the earlier injury, the globe of her non-functioning eye had begun to shrink also causing discomfort.
Having become evident that the left eye would need to be removed as well, Dr. Flower and her team made the decision to do both required surgeries at one time while Tori would already be under general anesthesia.
“Tori’s well-being is our number one priority,” added Dr. Flower. “We wanted to ensure that she could live her life here at Mystic Aquarium happy and healthy.”
The three-hour surgery took place in Mystic Aquarium’s new surgical suite in the John T. and Jane A. Weiderhold Foundation Veterinary and Animal Health Center and was a collaborative effort by a number of animal care professionals including Mystic Aquarium’s team, boarded veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Ruth Marrion and boarded veterinary anesthesiologist Dr. James Bailey.
Dr. Marrion, a native of East Lyme, is a staff ophthalmologist at Bulger Veterinary Hospital in North Andover, Mass. She provides regular veterinary ophthalmology services to Mystic Aquarium. Dr. James runs Innovative Veterinary Medicine in Ponte Vedra, FL. He, too, regularly consults with Mystic Aquarium on marine mammal anesthesia cases.
Following the procedure, as is standard protocol, veterinary intern Dr. Melissa Joblon spent the night monitoring Tori.
Dr. Joblon spent several hours outside of the ‘dry dock’ behind-the-scenes of the Pacific Northwest exhibit (before taking a nap in her office). In total, Tori was under direct supervision of animal care professionals for 24 hours; again following Mystic Aquarium protocol.
“Now over a month post-op, Tori is doing great,” said Nelson. “She is still able to see around the flap and is adjusting to her new eyesight. She is no longer keeping her eye closed and is swimming around and locomoting on land very well.”
Tori is reexamined by Mystic’s vet staff regularly and by Dr. Marrion every two weeks. Currently, she is in a pool off exhibit “mostly for population dynamics and enrichment” according to Dr. Flower, but is expected to be back in the Pacific Northwest exhibit to greet guests shortly.
“This has given me a new outlook on training,” added Nelson. “We rely a lot on the vision of our animals in order to communicate with them. However, with Tori’s vision impairment, it has made me think outside the box to ensure that I am communicating with her in the best way possible. We have worked very hard on transferring many of Tori’s visual signals for behaviors to verbal signals.”
Tori’s success story –from the Animal Rescue Program through this surgery- speaks to Mystic Aquarium’s commitment to animals and conservation.
“Being able to provide Tori with a new lease on life –not once but twice- highlights just how dedicated not only our training staff, but more importantly our vet staff is to the animals in our care. I look forward to sharing this with guests for years to come,” concluded Nelson.
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