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This is Bananas: Surgeon Gets Thrown Into First Time Operation On Orangutan

ENT specialist, Dr. David Simms made medical history at the Phoenix Zoo when he performed a surgery on an orangutan. This was procedure was Daniel, the orangutan’s, only hope for recovery. The operation had never been performed on an orangutan before but similar surgeries are frequently done on human patients. Dr. Simms had to apply what he knew about the human body to the ape in order to successfully save Daniel’s life.

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This S**t Is Bananas!

Daniel, a 12-year-old orangutan, had an annoying sinus infection for about a year. The pressure on his sinuses just kept building up making the ape sicker every day that went by. The respiratory infection was getting dangerously bad. Dr. Gary West at the Phoenix Zoo believed that cleaning the infection would be enough for the animal to get better. It wasn’t.

Respiratory infections are especially risky for orangutans because of an inflatable air sac that they have in their throats. These air sacs allow orangutans to make the loud calls they are known for. These sacs are easily infected and very vulnerable when infected.

Since orangutans are on the endangered species list, this case was especially pressing. The zoo did not want to lose Daniel.

When the infection started getting worse, Dr. West realized that if Daniel was going to have any chance of surviving, he needed a surgery that West didn’t have any knowledge on.

Paging Dr. Simms

Their only option was to call in Dr. David Simms. Dr. Simms is an ENT specialist with Dignity Health. Since humans and orangutans have a similar anatomy, this human doctor was Daniel’s best chance. The only issue was that Simms had never performed this surgery on someone that wasn’t human before.

But that didn’t deter him. Dr. Simms was eager and excited to tackle this challenge. Simms applied what he knew about human anatomy to help him figure out the best way to approach the procedure Daniel would be getting.

Dignity Health, where Simms worked fully supported Simms decision to help Daniel and gave Simms the right team to help him with it.

Finding the Right Approach

Simms started preparing the surgery by studying up on orangutan anatomy. He took CT scans of Daniel. These scans allowed him to realize the differences between human sinuses and orangutan sinuses. Additionally, he practiced on a 3D model of Daniel’s skull before the actual surgery.

Thankfully, Daniel’s surgery was completed with zero complications. The whole procedure only took 3 hours. Daniel’s best friend and primate manager at the zoo, Mary Yoder, could tell almost instantly that the ape was doing better after the procedure. “He wanted to eat everything in sight and he was back to his old self,” Yoder said.

The successful outcome of this surgery offers hope for other primates who face the same respiratory challenges as Daniel did. The zoo is excited to see how the rest of Daniel’s life will go. An average orangutan lives an average of 35-45 years. The staff at the Phoenix Zoo is optimistic that he will find a mate and start a family.