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Lifestyle // The Wild Side
Dr. John Kaya

Turtle’s Ninja Days Are Over

My children are really into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In fact, they watch this educational program every week – with their daddy, of course.

You see, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was on television during my younger days and nostalgia sets in every time I see them “save the day.”

In fact, when a turtle patient crawls in, I sometimes feel like I’m helping out one of my childhood heroes.

Is that dorky?

Oh well, such is the life of an exotic veterinarian.

Franklin came into our hospital with his owner Mr. Hamada and his daughter Sarah. I had a feeling that it was going to be a rough appointment when I saw the tears in Sarah’s eyes.

“Doc, please help my little Franklin,” pleaded Sarah. “It was an accident. I didn’t mean to hurt him.”

I looked at Mr. Hamada and he nodded in acknowledgement. As I peered into the carrier, I noticed that Franklin had some difficulty moving about, and the reason was very apparent.

“What happened?” I asked.

Mr. Hamada explained that he insisted that Sarah clean Franklin’s aquarium. He wanted her to understand the meaning of chores and responsibilities.

In the aquarium, Franklin had a large, flat rock that he used to bask in the sun. Most people don’t realize it, but aquatic turtles need a place to rest and dry themselves periodically.

As Mr. Hamada continued, Sarah suddenly interrupted him and said with a sad expression:

“I dropped the rock on Franklin.” That explained the crack on the back half of Franklin’s shell.

A turtle shell is not just a hard covering, but a very vascular structure similar to our nailbed. In fact, running down the middle and incorporated in the shell is the turtle’s spine. The rock that cracked Franklin’s shell also fractured his spine, and so his rear legs were not working properly.

“Don’t worry, Sarah,” I whispered. “We’ll fix Franklin up, and he’ll be just fine.”

The procedure needed to repair Franklin’s shell involved a fiberglass mesh and epoxy resin. As I described the procedure, Mr. Hamada had a quizzical look on his face.

“Doc, it sounds like something I would do for my surfboard,” he said.

“Exactly, we’re going to treat Franklin’s shell like a damaged surfboard. When we’re done, the repaired shell will be good as new. The only thing I’m not certain about is whether Franklin will regain full use of his rear legs. The spinal trauma might be too severe for normal function, but he should still be able to live a happy life.”

Sarah smiled and the tears stopped. Franklin’s shell healed, but he continued to walk in an awkward manner. His crime-fighting days were clearly over, but he provided love and companionship for a little girl.

As the Teenage Mutant Ninjas would say, “Kowabunga!”

Dr. John Kaya is the director of the Windward Community College veterinary technician program and associate veterinarian for VCA University Animal Hospital.

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