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Mutilated and near death a year ago, 'miracle turtle’ freed amid cheers in Fla.

Andre, an endangered green turtle, was released following a 414-day effort to save his life after apparently being hit by a boat. Andre, an endangered green turtle, was released following a 414-day effort to save his life after apparently being hit by a boat. (Lannis Waters/Palm Beach Post via Associated Press)
Associated Press / August 4, 2011

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JUNO BEACH, Fla. - A badly injured sea turtle that underwent a year of rehabilitation and innovative surgeries was released yesterday by caretakers hoping he finds a mate and helps his endangered species prosper.

Andre, as the 177-pound green sea turtle is known, crawled into the water and swam out of sight before a crowd of hundreds of raucous supporters. He was near death when he was found split open and stranded last year.

“He has overcome obstacles, predators, food scarcities, cold winters - any number of things that may have ended his life,’’ said Dr. Nancy Mettee, a veterinarian at Loggerhead Marinelife Center who cared for Andre. “He’s really a miracle turtle.’’

When Andre was found on a sandbar on June 15, 2010, he had gaping holes in his shell, the result of two apparent boat strikes. About three pounds of sand were inside him, along with at least a couple of live crabs, a raging infection, and a collapsed lung. His spinal cord was exposed, pneumonia was plaguing him, and death seemed certain.

Any one of those injuries could have killed him, but his neurological function appeared normal. So after beachgoers pulled him ashore on a boogie board, veterinarians began a yearlong effort to save him.

To help remove fluid and other materials and close his wounds, doctors used a vacuum therapy system. To help close gashes in the shell, a local orthodontist installed braces similar to those used on humans. And to fill in the gaping holes, doctors employed a procedure typically used to help regrow breast tissue in mastectomy patients.

All are believed to be animal firsts, and Andre’s supporters say the herculean effort was worth it. Green sea turtles have persisted since prehistoric times, but are endangered today. Only a small fraction of hatchlings survive and even fewer go on to reach adulthood and reproduce.

Andre is believed to be about 25 years old.

“Go out and live long and prosper and have lots of babies,’’ said Aaron Lichtig, who helped bring him ashore a year ago.

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