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Article: Folic Acid May Prevent Premature Births

Donna, a Western Lowland gorilla at the North Carolina Zoo, had two large lesions removed from her uterus. Dr. Gerald Mulvaney, director of the Greensboro office of the N.C. Center for Reproductive Medicine, helped in the surgery.

When Donna , a female gorilla at the North Carolina Zoo, developed severe bleeding in her reproductive tract, a Greensboro gynecologist was among the experts called in to help.

Dr. Gerald Mulvaney , director of the Greensboro office of the N.C. Center for Reproductive Medicine , helped perform surgery on the gorilla Nov. 14.

“It was one of the most fun things I’ve done in a while,” Mulvaney said. “It was a wonderful experience.”

Mulvaney said Donna, a Western Lowland gorilla, had been plagued by severe vaginal bleeding. Attempts to control it with hormone injections failed, said Dr. Mike Loomis, the zoo’s chief veterinarian.

Zoo veterinarians attempted to perform a hysterectomy on her May 4 , but they found so many adhesions in her abdomen that they didn’t think they could safely perform the procedure, Loomis said.

The zoo called in Mulvaney and Sameh Toma , his counterpart in the center’s Cary office, to come operate on Donna.

Preliminary ultrasound tests indicated that Donna had abnormal tissue in her uterus, Loomis said. Mulvaney and Toma performed a hysteroscopy , in which instruments are used to view the interior of the uterus through the vagina. The procedure is commonly performed on humans, Mulvaney said.

They found two large lesions within her uterus and removed them by scraping the lining of the uterus and applying suction, Loomis said.

Mulvaney said the surgery was difficult because a gorilla’s vagina, cervix and uterus are smaller than those of humans.

He, Toma and zoo staff are awaiting a pathology report on the removed tissue. Depending on what it finds, they may continue to treat Donna.

Donna, meanwhile, returned to her habitat hours after her surgery and was back to normal within 48 hours, Loomis said.

He said it was not the first time the zoo has called in physicians to help deal with primates because apes’ anatomy is so similar to that of humans.

Western Lowland gorillas are an endangered species , so “any attempt to save (Donna’s) life, I think, is warranted,” Mulvaney said.

“For years, animals have contributed to our better health through experiments and so on,” he added, “so I feel very fortunate to be able to give back to these animals, hopefully, from my experience in the human world, to improve their quality of life and longevity.”


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