TAMPA — A couple of months ago, Freud the sea turtle gave a reassuring sign to his caretakers at the Florida Aquarium: He swam to the bottom of his tank and chilled out.
This was huge progress — just last year, Freud couldn't swim or dive. Aquarium staffers had long suspected a tear in his lungs but couldn't pinpoint the problem for the endangered green sea turtle.
Freud was taken to the aquarium shortly after being discovered on a Panhandle beach in November 2012. He was lethargic, bloated and covered in algae.
So in December, the aquarium began teaming up with USF Health to get diagnostic help with a state-of-the-art advanced imaging system. And the answers they got led to a treatment plan that has Freud ready for the wild again.
A team from the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine's department of radiology analyzed Freud's scans and created three-dimensional models of his lungs to visualize the extent of the damage.
Working with sea turtle expert Dr. Doug Mader of the Marathon Sea Turtle Hospital, the team came up with a diagnosis: bronchopleural fistula, an abnormal connection between the small air tubes of the lung and the space around it.
Since the diagnosis was confirmed in January, the Florida Aquarium team has been treating Freud and in recent months saw big improvements in his swimming abilities, according to a joint news release from the aquarium and USF. Freud could swim to the bottom of the tank and glide across the water effortlessly.
But aquarium veterinarian Kathy Heym said the staff couldn't be certain he was healed. So they reached out again to the USF Health radiology department and recently got another round of CT scans, this time at the USF Health South Tampa Center for Advanced Healthcare imaging facility on the Tampa General Hospital campus.
The CT scans confirmed that Freud's injury has completely healed, with minor residual scarring, so he can safely be released back into the wild, the aquarium says.
The aquarium is working with Florida Fish and Wildlife to determine when and where Freud's release will take place.
"We simply couldn't have done it without the help of our friends at USF Health," Heym said in a statement. "Freud's success is due in a large part to their willingness to utilize their equipment and expertise to help us make a proper diagnosis and develop a plan of action to successfully treat this turtle."
Contact Jodie Tillman at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @JTillmanTimes.