The Oklahoma City Zoo is sadly now one resident smaller.
That’s because Kyah, a six-month-old baby giraffe born with a blood vessel wrapped around her esophagus, died last week undergoing surgery to help remove it. The news doesn’t come as a tremendous surprise, given doctors’ predictions that the surgery only had a 50% chance of succeeding, ABC News reports. Still, the birth defect had caused Kyah to regurgitate her food, resulting in months of uncomfortable eating.
Animal handlers at the zoo first noticed the blood vessel when Kyah was still nursing from her mother at six weeks old. As she made the transition from her mother’s milk to solid food, Kyah began experiencing problems keeping her food down due to the wayward blood vessel. As she were to age, Kyah would have had to eventually quit nursing altogether, prompting doctors to want to remedy her birth defect immediately.
The four-hour surgery did not succeed, and Kyah was euthanized shortly after. Had she lived and grown larger, Kyah’s problem would have only grown worse, leading to unbearable pain and, eventually, the complete inability to eat at all. Surgery seemed like the best course of action, though it was deemed risky in part because of Kyah’s massive size (at only six months old, she was already over 9 feet tall and weighed over 500 pounds). Getting her under with anesthesia was also problematic because of her long neck.
Still, doctors were “cautiously optimistic,” ABC News said. The lead surgeon, Dr. Mark Rochat, had performed the same surgery on other, smaller animals in the past, but never on a giraffe. Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino is the Oklahoma City Zoo’s director of veterinary services. She said after the surgery that she was grateful to Oklahoma State University’s Veterinary Medical Hospital “for their expertise and hard work.”
“We knew going into this procedure that Kyah’s chances were extremely low and we felt we gave her every chance possible to thrive,” D’Agostino told the AP. “Collaborations such as these also allow us to learn more about the species in our care.”
Kyah’s birth defect is also one that can affect humans, as the blood vessel that was present around her esophagus is usually absorbed back into the body while the baby is still in the womb. Neck surgeries, meanwhile, have gotten quite a bit of traction due to developments like artificial disc replacement surgery and spinal fusion.
Kyah’s story may have a bit of a happy ending, though. Her tissue is to be used for research at both OSU and the University of Oklahoma, the AP reports.
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