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Gator takes 150-mile journey to the Keys for surgery

Carrying the alligator toward the stretcher so it can be rolled into a surgery room are (above from left) Western University of Health Sciences student Jonathan Ho, Marathon Veterinary Hospital Dr. Raj Joshi and Luis Caraballo from Acara Reptiles in Broward County.
Carrying the alligator toward the stretcher so it can be rolled into a surgery room are (above from left) Western University of Health Sciences student Jonathan Ho, Marathon Veterinary Hospital Dr. Raj Joshi and Luis Caraballo from Acara Reptiles in Broward County.

Flaco the alligator's been living the good life at Everglades Holiday Park in western Broward County, but he recently got into a nasty dust-up with another gator there.

It was so bad that his right eye was basically gouged out. So as many reptile care-takers do, a call went out to the Marathon Veterinary Hospital, where Dr. Doug Mader specializes in exotic animals, especially reptiles. He knew what to do with the eye when Everglades Holiday Park Director Ashley Lawrence and her helper, Luis Caraballo from Acara Reptiles, arrived with Flaco Thursday.

"We removed it," Mader said following a half-hour operation on Flaco, a 25-year-old, 200-pound, 9-foot monster of an animal. "The eyeball was punctured. It was basically like a ruptured water balloon surrounded by puss. So we took it out and sewed the eye shut."

Mader's operated on alligators before but it's rare he does so at the Keys hospital.

"They are challenging to anesthetize because they stay under water for a long time" by basically turning off their lungs, he said. "It's not until they surface that their lungs turn back on. The anesthesia shuts down the lungs. We forced him to breathe with the tube."

Flaco recovered in post-op for about an hour before being driven back home.

"They're kind of like a slow drunk when they wake up. We give them pain medicine and antibiotics," Mader said.

Lawrence said Friday that Flaco is doing terrific -- and getting special treatment that the other two dozen gators at the tourist attraction, which features gator shows and the like, don't. He's in his own area, for one.

"You don't want them to go in the water. When they anesthetize like that, they could drown. So he's near shallow water," she said. "We're just keeping him cool in shade, he's just doing his thing."

Unlike most who need medicine, "He'll be excited. He's going to be getting antibiotics" -- but hidden in food. Unlike the other gators, Flaco will eat every other day for about a week. Normally, the gators eat once weekly.

"He'll be spoiled with treats," Lawrence said.

She said they usually eat raw chicken but if they are on medication, it's "hidden inside hot dogs or feeder rats. So we have frozen feeder rats we buy for the animals. And those are his favorite treats."

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