Aurora, a 12-foot python rescue, was saved after swallowing a large blanket by Dr. Nicole Smee and veterinary team.
Dr. Nicole Smee is an internist at the Las Vegas Veterinary Specialty Center, so she's used to handling advanced diagnostics and doing a lot of endoscopy. In fact, she's helping teach an endoscopy course at the Viticus Center in November. But on this particular day, she had a patient she wasn't exactly prepared for.
With the help of her veterinary network and other resources with some experience in exotics, Dr. Smee was able to save the life of Aurora, a 7-year-old, 12-foot python.
Where Did the Snake Come From?
Aurora's owner, Jennifer Wessel, used to work at the Las Vegas Veterinary Specialty Center and has training with reptiles. She was approached by someone a few weeks prior who asked her if she would take Aurora in.
At Wessel's home, she converted a bedroom into Aurora's room complete with her own bed, which had a large red blanket on it. One night, Wessel watched Aurora eat her food (frozen thawed rabbit) and then went to bed. When she went to check on her the next morning, she realized Aurora seemed more bloated than normal and that the blanket was missing.
"We are guessing it had a smell of food and once she started eating she couldn’t stop!" says Dr. Smee.
Aurora's Emergency Procedure
Wessel called the clinic and talked to one of Dr. Smee's nurses. She knew they didn’t have a lot of reptile experience at the clinic, but she knew how good Dr. Smee is at endoscopy. She hoped Dr. Smee would be willing to try to do a scope.
Luckily, Dr. Smee was willing to try, despite knowing almost nothing about snake endoscopy or anesthesia. Other than a brief report of a snake eating a beach towel, not a lot of information could be found about what to do or how to do it.
At that point, Dr. Smee called everyone she knew who had experience with exotics. One of her colleagues gave her some anesthesia advice and directed her to an exotic animal anesthesia book. Then, she went through the clinic and found everyone that was willing to help or knew anything about snakes. One of the technicians happened to have previously worked in South Africa and helped with procedures on snakes in the wild.
Wessel waited to bring Aurora in until after all other procedures were done for the day to avoid having small cats and dogs in the clinic. Dr. Smee and Wessel brought her into the exam room and started with radiographs and an exam to confirmed she felt distended. The radiographs confirmed there was a foreign body just in front of the rabbit she had previously eaten.
They got a tape measure to see if they had a scope long enough, and they did! They also had to put together 3 gurneys to have a working space long enough, which was almost the entire length of the room.
"I had never touched a snake this big, and I had only done limited procedures with snakes before. The closest thing I've ever done to this is when the animal shelter called and asked me if my rescue would accept a turtle that had swallowed a fish hook. I remember that when I put the scope in, it was what I was expecting—into the esophagus, then a sphincter, and then the stomach. I was hoping it would be that easy for a snake too, and it was. Just a very, very long esophagus!" - Dr. Nicole Smee
When she made it to the stomach, they found something red. She used a grasper like you would with cloth removal in small animal practice. Once she grasped it, she had all the volunteers massage from the tail up. When they got the end to the mouth, they used a stronger grasper and started pulling, being careful of her sharp teeth that hook backwards.
Dr. Smee says, "Her jaw opened so wide and the blanket just kept coming. We could not believe our eyes. It was so incredible!"
Since then, Dr. Smee says they've been interviewed by two news stations and gets requests daily for interviews or permission to use the videos, including A&E!
Smee says she has seen Aurora for their news interview, and Ms. Wessel posted an update video recently that Aurora is doing well.
Way to go, Dr. Smee and team, for thinking on your feet!
Check out the new courses coming up in 2020 WVC Academy, taught by experts in state-of-the-art lab facilities!
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