Lifestyle & Human Interest

Orangutan Has Surgery after Struggling to Breathe. Doctor Had Never Operated on Apes Before


Daniel, 12, was struggling to feel his best. Lower than normal energy levels turned into lethargy.

Daniel’s interaction with others decreased as he became more and more depressed. His diet wasn’t to blame considering it was full of vegetables.

Even the steady stream of green beans, yams, and eggplant couldn’t heal Daniel’s persistent wet cough and sinus infection. So the Phoenix Zoo contacted Dr. David Simms, an ear, nose, and throat surgeon, to look into surgery options for Daniel.

That’s right; this 12-year-old is a Bornean orangutan. Dr. Simms had trouble believing the request for him to perform surgery on an orangutan was real.

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“I got a call from the vets here about doing that, and at first I thought it was a prank, and after I called them and found out it was legitimate, I looked at some CT scan and realized he really did have a problem, and after looking at scans, I could tell his sinuses were very similar to a human,” Simms explained, according to KSAZ.

Daniel’s symptoms were definitely not a joke. The orangutan suffered from coughing, excess mucous, and labored breathing thanks to an unwavering sinus infection.

Antibiotics, allergy medicine, and medical therapy were the first courses of treatment before surgery. Daniel underwent surgery to remove infections in his air sacs with Dr. Jeff Steurer, but the respiratory issues remained.

Medical professionals brainstormed how to proceed and came up with the idea to give Simms a call. After it was established that they were not pranking him, Simms familiarized himself with the structure of Daniel’s skull and sinuses.

He had never performed surgery on an orangutan before, and the surgical procedure had never been performed on any orangutan in the United States.

Jeff Steurer, a veterinarian surgeon, was also present. He explained to KSAZ, “We went in and opened the air sacks and left them open so we could continue to get drainage of that fluid, so if any fluid or puss builds up in there, it will continue to drain.”

The new surgery brought the old Daniel who enjoyed eating and playing back to life. The successful surgery was life changing for this orangutan and perhaps many more in the future!

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Carolyn Fultz is a former contributor for Liftable Media. She holds a B.A. in Communication from Hope College.
Carolyn Fultz is a former contributor for Liftable Media. She holds a B.A. in Communication from Hope College. Carolyn's writing has been featured in both online and print media, including Just Between Us magazine. She resides in Phoenix with her husband and children.
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