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Watch: Vancouver seal undergoes 'game changer' surgery only done on humans

No one likes kidney stones

Hermes had kidney stones.

While for humans that's a painful problem, there are a few different ways the ailment can be dealt with. But since Hermes is a 23-year-old harbour seal living at the Vancouver Aquarium it's a bigger issue.

"Because of the unique anatomy of seal kidneys, stones cannot usually be removed using standard endoscopic techniques," says the aquarium in a press release.

Luckily for Hermes, Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) is nearby. The aquarium reached out to Dr. Ben Chew and the urology team there to learn about other options that might be appropriate for the marine mammal. 

"He suggested that we try a brand-new non-invasive technology that is undergoing clinical trials at VGH and which fragments stones by creating standing stress waves within the stones,” says the aquarium' Director of Animal Health Dr. Martin Haulena in the release.

The procedure used SonoMotion's Break Wave technology, which is only a few years old and had never been attempted on a seal before. It's been called a "game-changer" for human patients dealing with kidney stones. The team deemed it safe to try on the pinneped.

While Hermes had kidney stones in both kidneys, the Break Wave was only used on one, while a surgical procedure dealt with the other. A group of SonoMotion doctors came to help and De. Jean Buckley, from VGH, performed the Break Wave procedure.

“We were pleased to see that Break Wave technology successfully broke up several stones in the left kidney which was clearly evident in real time,” says Dr. Haulena. “Hermes has recovered well from the procedure and is extremely comfortable. A follow-up CT exam will help guide further treatment."