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Nothing to sniff at: 425-pound gorilla breathes easy after surgery

SEATTLE-- When a lingering sinus infection got so bad, it called for surgery, and a local doctor knew he had the case of a lifetime. As he described it, it would be a challenging procedure on a massive patient with a floppy nose.

The patient is 35-years-old, 425 pounds, and his name is Vip, which stands for "very important primate." Vip is the breeding male of the Woodland Park Zoo's lowland gorilla family. And for weeks, he had a runny, stuffy nose that was only getting worse.

"We did both left and right side exploration of his sinuses, found an overwhelming, severe infection with complications of polyps and other obstructions," described Darin Collins of the Woodland Park Zoo. Antibiotics didn't help, so zookeepers called Dr. Greg Davis at UW Medicine. At that point, Dr. Davis had only operated on humans, but he had more than a thousand surgeries behind him.

"His anatomy, it's pretty similar to humans," Dr. Davis said. "They have the same main set of sinuses we do. But they're just much longer and more narrow. Even though his head's enormous and his nose is big compared to ours it's just really small anatomy inside."

CT scans and examinations of a gorilla skull helped Dr. Davis map out his plan. Donations stocked the zoo's surgical suite with the right high tech equipment. But even with the familiar feel, the doctor never forgot who was on the table.

"All gorillas have a very distinct odor, and that reminds you constantly," he said. "Towards the end of surgery they started to lighten him up a little bit. And when his nostrils started flaring with every breath, I knew we were done."

Today, Vip is back with his family at the zoo, delighting visitors, overseeing his band - and breathing easy.

"Unless you know the story, you wouldn't know there had been a medical problem," Collins said.

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