UW's head football team doctor treats a real gorilla of a patient

Dr. Harmon and a medical team examine 275-pound gorilla Jumoke, who was injured in a scuffle. (Photo courtesy of Woodland Park Zoo)

SEATTLE (KOMO) - The head physician for the University of Washington's football team is used to treating concussions, ACL tears and knee cartilage damage. But over the weekend Dr. Kimberly Harmon got a most unusual request from an unexpected source for her sports medicine expertise.

Woodland Park Zoo was calling - and wanted to know if Harmon could diagnose a leg injury in a 275-pound gorilla.

Harmon said yes, and soon she and and a group of animal medical specialists were examining Jumoke, a 32-year-old female western lowland gorilla who was injured in a scuffle with a younger female gorilla in her group named Uzumma.

Martin Ramirez, Woodland Park Zoo’s mammal curator, said gorillas are generally calm animals, but scuffles are not uncommon, especially younger gorillas challenging older gorillas. She says 10-year-old Uzumma started the fight. "It was a display of natural adolescent behavior like a human teenager acting out,” said Ramirez.

In the days after the scuffle, gorilla keepers noted that Jumoke was having difficulty walking and placing weight on her right leg. So they got the idea of calling in Dr. Harmon to examine the injured gorilla.

“Who better to call than the head physician of one of the nation’s top-ranked football programs?" said Dr. Darin Collins, Woodland Park Zoo’s director of animal health. "We were very fortunate she used her expertise for Jumoke’s welfare."

Jumoke was examined at the zoo’s veterinary hospital. X-rays found a fracture of the tibia, one of two bones in the lower leg.

Harmon was joined in the examination by Dr. Albert Gee, a sports orthopedic surgeon at UW Medicine, Dr. Alex Aguila from the Animal Surgical Clinic of Seattle and Dr. Leslie Eide with Animal Surgical Clinic of Seattle. They found that the fracture was already showing signs of healing, and no cast or splint would be attempted.

Instead, the patient will receive antibiotics and pain medications and undergo physical therapy. "This type of fracture in a human is typical of a blunt force impact and should heal if a bone infection does not complicate the healing," Dr. Harmon said.

Jumoke is the grandmother of baby Yola, a female who turns 2 years old next month. Jumoke currently lives with her male companion, 38-year-old Vip and Uzumma. Two other separate gorilla groups also live at the zoo.

Collins said the Woodland Park Zoo is lucky to have access to Dr. Harmon and other specialists in the Seattle area and around the country.

"We take care of more than 1,000 animals at the zoo. ... We are so grateful to this network and especially to Harmon, Eide and the other specialists who donated their time and expertise to help our injured gorilla,” said Collins.

The western lowland gorilla lives in seven countries across west equatorial Africa. All gorillas are endangered; the western lowland gorilla is considered to be critically endangered.

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