Saturday, October 22, 2005

Hospital team tries to save a chimp - from human flu

He was just a kid and even the best medicine couldn't save him.

Despite a heroic rescue effort by off-duty Wellington Hospital intensive care staff, Wellington Zoo's youngest chimp, Bahati, has died of pneumonia after a human flu outbreak.

The mischievous four-year-old was one of several chimps struck down by flu, but was much worse off than the rest. By last Tuesday, he was lying down, struggling to breathe, zoo vet Kerri Morgan said.

A chest X-ray revealed their worst fears – he had pneumonia.

"There was a whole lot of pus and mucous stuff in the airways. We knew we were in a bit of trouble."

That night his heart stopped. But the zoo staff fought to keep him going, using cardiac massage and injecting adrenaline into his heart.

But by the Wednesday morning it was clear they were out of their depth. "It was pretty scary. We decided we needed help."

They had to insert a tube into Bahati's airway and needed a ventilator to help him breathe.

Enter Wellington Hospital intensive care staff.

Responding to the pleas for help, ICU head Peter Hicks and two senior nurses assessed Bahati and ferreted around the hospital for old intensive care gear.

Dr Hicks and seven ICU nurses gave up off-duty time to care for the sick chimp. Even the smallest things were a challenge – finding a power and oxygen supply and a table the right height for the patient.

Though it was surprisingly like caring for a sick child, there were some important differences, Dr Hicks said. "We had an interesting conversation over how you wake up a chimp. They said: 'You get the equipment out of the room, take the tube out, run out and wait.' That's not quite the same as people."

Chimpanzees are up to 10 times as strong as humans, and the most dangerous animals in the zoo.

Though the ventilation and antibiotics cleared Bahati's lungs, it became apparent when he was waking up on Friday that he had severe brain damage from the period when his heart stopped. The vets decided to put him down.

Story here.

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