Epworth doctors’ monkey business

Epworth doctors have donated their medical expertise to operate on a different species than their usual patient base.

Orthopaedic surgeon A/Prof Marinis Pirpiris joined anaesthetist Dr Kevin Moriarty at Melbourne Zoo to help treat arthritis in the Zoo’s oldest orang-utan on Thursday 16 April 2015.

Senior vet Dr Helen McCracken reported that Suma, also known as Kianni, will be 37 in June and has shown intermittent signs of arthritis-related pain since 2013.

“We have been closely monitoring her since then, and over the past six months we have seen more frequent episodes of her looking uncomfortable. She has been receiving daily pain relief medication orally, using a drug developed for human patients,” Dr McCracken said.

Arthritis is a natural accompaniment to ageing in Great Apes just as it is in humans. Suma has had arthritis in both ankles and her jaw.

Dr Moriarty has been a volunteer at the zoo since 1978 when he attended the birth of Suma and her twin brother Bono – a traumatic birth – as twins are extremely rare in this species.

Epworth pain specialist Dr Saleem Khan who has assisted with Suma’s pain-relief, encouraged A/Prof Pirpiris to share his arthritis expertise with the team at the zoo.

Dr McCracken notes that while Zoo veterinarians work with more than 300 species of wildlife, the gorillas and orang-utans share so much with humans that medical specialists are called in to advise on procedures involving Great Apes.

A/Prof Pirpiris said he felt incredibly lucky to be invited to share the skills he practises on humans with the animal world.

“I felt a sense of exhilaration to be able to help someone of a different species stay really functional”.

Photo showing Dr Kevin Moriarty and A/Prof Marinis Pirpiris preparing Suma for surgery. Photo courtesy of James Morgan.