Surgery fit for a human, helps a gorilla feel more in his prime

BROOKFIELD, Ill. - 49 years is not often considered "elderly.” That is, unless you are a gorilla. At 49, in the primate world, if you are still alive, you are most certainly, living out your golden years.

One such gorilla at the Brookfield Zoo is doing just that.

Ramar is an aging Silverback gorilla and is slowing down every day because his knees are failing.

At 375 pounds and decades of wear and tear veterinarians compare his physical state to an NFL player in their 80s.

So doctors declared surgery is a must to clean out and even improve the aging knees of this incredible animal.

Dr. Michael Adkesson at the Brookfield Zoo invited Dr. Mukund Komanduri, an MD and orthopedic surgeon, to help him get Ramar back on his feet and moving more comfortably again.

"It’s interesting. A gorilla knee is just like a human knee probably about the size of a linebacker's knee by a 300 pound guy,” Dr. Komanduri said.

Six veterinarians and one human doctor along with 25 or so support staff got Ramar sedated and set for surgery in what was a very busy operating room.

First, there was some fairly routine dental work that included pulling a bad molar.

But the real task was tackling those nagging knees by performing  a bilateral arthroscopy, partial removal of the gorilla's meniscus and then injections with synthetic lubricants and a platelet rich plasma to reduce inflammation.

There are minimally invasive procedures medical teams knew were necessary after Ramar stopped moving around his exhibit the way he used to.

After drugs like Lyrica and Celebrex stopped providing relief, it was time for another approach.  The apes are taking meds like humans and now the gorillas in captivity are living longer just like us, too. The surgery took between two and three hours to complete. Ramar was wheeled back to his habitat and the team working on him are hopeful their efforts will give this old primate new purpose in his retirement years.

"He’s in fantastic health overall and we expect him to bounce back from this procedure very quickly," Dr. Adkesson said.

More information at Brookfield Zoo.