SOUTH BEND — Doctors from IU Health Goshen Hospital worked with an unusual patient this past weekend at the Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend.
A team of three doctors from the hospital assisted the zoo with a procedure on a chimpanzee named Alex on Sunday, Sept. 8. The 16-year-old chimp, who was transferred to South Bend from Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo in Florida, had developed a heart problem. Even though they do not typically work with animals, the doctors were not in entirely unfamiliar territory.
“Their hearts are just like ours,” said Lynette Stark, an echocardiographer at IU Health Goshen.
Chimpanzees, Stark said, tend to develop congestive heart failure when living in captivity. Alex’s heart condition may have been caused by anesthesia, she added.
“They don’t know if it’s the sedentary lifestyle, the diet or what, so they wanted us to check him out to see if things had improved or gotten worse,” she said.
Stark was accompanied by Dr. Michael Holt, a radiologist, and Dr. Peter Kim, a cardiologist. Together, they performed an echocardiogram, or ultrasound for the heart. The procedure typically takes about 20 minutes to complete.
“We look at all of the chambers and all of the heart valves,” Stark described. “We measure everything. We look to see if the valves leak or if they aren’t opening very widely. We look for fluid. We’re able to tell where the pressures are on the right side of the heart, and we’re able to tell how well the left side fills and empties.”
This past weekend’s procedure was not the first time Stark had an animal for a patient. She did a similar check up on her dog, a German shepherd-collie mix who had a leaky aortic valve.
“They didn’t think she would live past the age of 2 without getting a valve replacement,” Stark said. “She lived until she was 14.”
Stark said Alex the chimp’s heart looks healthy, adding that he will not likely require any follow up visits with doctors.
“This was so interesting because not very many people get to experience something like this with an animal,” Stark said.