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Wednesday
Aug032011

Andre the Sea Turtle Released Back into Ocean after Recovery

File photo. Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(JUNO BEACH, Fla.) -- They called him Andre -- an endangered green sea turtle that washed up in 2010 on a sandbar on Juno Beach in Florida, nearly dead after a boat ran him over with its propeller and tore huge gashes in his shell.

Healed by a team that included veterinarians, a biotech company and even an orthodontist, Andre was safely returned to the Atlantic on Wednesday.

It took a year to nurse him back to health. He now weighs 170 pounds, and the animal lovers who helped him say he's strong enough to survive again on the open water.

"We found it to be very rewarding," said Dr. Alberto Vargas, the orthodontist who was called in to help repair the turtle's shell. "I grew up here, and so did members of my team. The turtle, the ocean, the beach, they're part of our community."

Andre's body cavity was exposed to the elements by the propeller. He had three pounds of sand in his body, and infection had set in. He had a collapsed lung and pneumonia. There was even a live crab trapped beneath a corner of his broken shell.

The center exists to rescue such animals, and the staff brought in some big guns. They called a Texas company called Kinetic Concepts, which provides a high-tech system called V.A.C. therapy to cleanse wounds gently. It also helped make an artificial scaffold over Andre's shell while natural tissue was grown to fill the gaps.

And a particularly complex job went to Dr. Vargas and his staff, who donated time to stretch sections of shell to help cover Andre's wounds, using adhesive so the shell would be solid when the parts were brought back together.

"I usually do orthodontics on human beings, and I have no experience on animals," said Vargas. "It has helped us with our human patients because it taught us to think in new ways, to think outside the box. You can go out and discover new ways to solve problems."

Vargas said he found that the adhesives he usually uses -- designed for human beings -- were not very effective on a sea turtle's shell. Something he'd taken for granted for years had to be re-mixed until it worked.

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ABC News Radio