Veterinary, Human Doctors Implant Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy Device in Gorilla

On Sept. 28, 2004, a team of veterinarians at Auburn University and Birmingham Zoo joined human surgeons to implant a cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) device, similar in size and function to a pacemaker, in a gorilla. It is believed to be the first surgery of its kind that may, under very unique circumstances, be used in some dogs with cardiomyopathy in the future, said Ray Dillon, DVM, MS, MBA, professor of medicine at Auburn University.

“All the right people got together at the right time” for this surgery, Dillon said. “It was a very unique opportunity.”

Babec, a 24-year-old, 400-pound gorilla at the zoo, received the CRT device so that doctors could pace each side of the heart independently. Dillon described the device, which has been used in people for the last five years, as an offshoot of an internal defribulator.

Echocardiography allows doctors to change the device’s pacing and thereby maximize the heart’s output, Dillon said. Fourteen people participated in the surgery, which lasted six hours. Dillon said that the cost of the procedure is difficult to pinpoint because the equipment was donated and time was volunteered, but he mentioned that the CRT device alone carries a price tag of $35,000. In the future, when the technology becomes more affordable, “there may be some utility for CRT therapy in dogs in very unique cases,” he added.

At press time, Babec was recovering and is expected to return to his zoo exhibit in a matter of weeks.

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