Florida's Brevard Zoo says that Brody is the youngest bear to get an MRI, a scan Health First’s Viera Hospital performed on the black bear on April 11

By Kelli Bender
April 16, 2021 05:51 PM
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bear MRI
Credit: Brevard Zoo

Brody the bear is taking big steps towards feeling better.

According to the Brevard Zoo, the 1-year-old Florida black bear started struggling with mobility issues last summer. Brody underwent pelvic surgery and stem cell therapy to address the problem, and while the treatments helped, the bear's keepers found that the animal was still struggling to get around.

"He appeared to have a condition similar to hip dysplasia in dogs and underwent corrective surgery; to our knowledge, this was the first surgery of its kind ever performed on a bear. He has also received several rounds of stem-cell therapy," Dr. Trevor Zachariah, director of veterinary programs at Florida's Brevard Zoo, told PEOPLE of the bear's initial treatments.

"The surgery was successful, and he seemed to be doing well, but he began exhibiting more issues in the fall. We didn't find anything in subsequent radiographs or CT scans, so we began to suspect these problems were neurological. We needed an MRI to get a better look at his soft tissues," he added.

Bear MRIs are not common practice — Brody is likely the youngest bear to experience an MRI scan — so the zoo did not have the equipment needed to perform the procedure. For assistance, the facility reached out to Health First's Viera Hospital, a hospital for humans in Brevard County, Florida.

"Our counterparts at Brevard Zoo approached us and explained Brody's situation, and we knew we couldn't pass up the opportunity to help. It took about two weeks of preparation between our staff and Brevard Zoo veterinarians before we could assess Brody's health needs," Dianna Green, the Health First director of clinical operations/radiology, said.

"We had to find out how much he weighed, whether he was going to fit into the scanner, and what exactly we were looking for. We've never scanned a bear before, so their anatomy is different than what we're used to seeing."

On April 11, after weeks of careful planning, Brody was anesthetized in his habitat, intubated at the zoo's animal hospital, and driven about five minutes to Health First's Viera Hospital.

"He was driven to the hospital with two vets, one curator, and one keeper. Brody was placed on a gurney and wheeled into the MRI suite. The vets stayed in the suite with him throughout the procedure to monitor his vitals. A veterinary neurologist looked at the images in real-time," Dr. Zachariah shared.

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After the procedure, keepers drove Brody back to the zoo, where he safely came out of an anesthesia-fueled deep sleep in his habitat. Dr. Zachariah is pleased with how well Brody handled the entire ordeal, which was made easier by the hospital's "amazing and accommodating" staff.

Now that the tricky part is over, Brody is awaiting his results. Once the zoo receives the full radiology report from the bear's MRI, they will be able to pick the best treatments to address Brody's lingering mobility issues.