Topeka Zoo Orangutan Recovers From Emergency Hysterectomy

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From the City of Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. – Four days after an emergency hysterectomy, Lena, a 30-year-old orangutan, is recovering nicely from her surgery, Dr. Shirley Llizo, staff veterinarian of the Topeka Zoo said. The hysterectomy was performed after doctors determined the third trimester fetus Lena was carrying no longer had a heartbeat. “We wanted to avoid surgery,” Dr. Llizo said. “Complications with a ruptured uterus left us no option.”

“The first 24 hours were critical,” Dr. Llizo said. “Once we got past that point, the focus shifted to pain management and preventing infection. In a great ape that isn’t feeling well, that presents its own set of challenges.”

In this case, one of the more creative approaches occurred when staff attached four feet of rubber tubing to a broomstick creating an extended straw through which Lena could drink Gatorade and medication.

“We want Lena to be as comfortable as possible,” Beckee Niemackl, Lena’s primary Zoo Keeper said. “In years of dealing with things like this you learn to do whatever it takes. The long straw just made sense.”

One of the things that has impressed zoo staff about Lena through this ordeal is her gentleness towards doctors and zoo staff, explained Niemackl. “The day after she went through a major surgery, Dr. Llizo showed her a syringe. Lena saw it and presented her shoulder to be hand injected with pain relievers. In situations like these, you realize how much the training we have done with these orangutans for years pays off.”

Lena is alert, but taking it easy. She is resting on a fluffy bed made of straw. Her appetite is slowly coming back. Infection is still a concern but lessens a little each day. While she still faces a lengthy recovery time, she has a caring staff and loving community to help her along the way.

Perinatologist Dr. John Evans of Stormont-Vail HealthCare and Veterinarian Leon Conner of Highland Park Animal Hospital teamed with Dr. Llizo and zoo staff to complete Lena’s procedure.