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From the Rush Archives: World Snake Day, July 16

by Nathalie Wheaton on 2020-07-15T08:00:00-05:00 in History | 0 Comments

With 180+ years of Rush history to explore, the Rush Archives can find something in our past to match pretty much any commemorative day you can imagine. And that includes World Snake Day, celebrated July 16!

In 1983, Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center* welcomed a very unusual patient. Her name was Flame, a five-foot, venomous, African cobra snake residing in Brookfield Zoo. Flame suffered from a mouth tumor, and despite coming to the Medical Center fully anesthetized, doctors had to work carefully around her venomous fangs.  

snake surgeryVeterinarians at the Brookfield Zoo discovered the tumor after observing that the snake hadn’t been eating for some months. The tumor blocked an organ controlling her ability to smell and identify food. The main tumor was removed at the zoo in mid-December. 

Follow-up procedures at Rush in January 1983**, were led by David D. Caldarelli, MD, chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology and Bronchoesophagology, and Frank R. Hendrickson, MD, chairman of the Department of Therapeutic Radiology.

CAPTION: Dr. Calderelli, left, performs delicate cryosurgery on Flame, a five-foot cobra referred by veterinarians at Brookfield Zoo.

These procedures included radiation treatment (to prevent recurrence of the disease) and removal of remaining bits of the tumor (using cryosurgery). In the cryosurgery, tissue was frozen at -80 degrees centigrade to remove the tumor bits without destroying the healthy cells around them. 

The operation was a success and Flame went back to her "normal snake behavior." Since zookeepers couldn’t get within striking range of Flame, Brookfield’s curator of reptiles Ray Pawley explained, their analysis was based on observation only. However, no signs of skin burning or sloughing off were detected. 

“We’re simply delighted,” said Pawley, who expressed his thanks to the Rush medical team. “So far, so good,” he cautiously tendered. 

And as for Leonard Hines, the O.R. technician who was asked to come in on his day off to operate the cryosurgery machine, was it worth it? “You bet!” 

*Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center was renamed Rush University Medical Center in 2003, to better reflect its status as a leading academic research center. 

**From “Flame: An Unusual Patient from Brookfield,” NewsRounds, March 1983. From the NewsRounds Collection, #4719, Rush University Medical Center Archives, Chicago, Ill:

To learn more about Rush history and the Rush Archives collections, visit our website or contact the archivist, Nathalie Wheaton, MSLS.

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