Champa: The Bear Who Got Brain Surgery

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Matt Hunt

While brain surgery has become a fairly common procedure with humans, it is still very rarely used on animal patients, who have drastically different anatomies than we do. Fortunately for Champa, an Asiatic black bear living in a sanctuary in Laos, a handful of veterinarians are still willing to experiment with brain surgery—especially if the procedure could save an animal's life.

Champa was rescued from wildlife traffickers when she was only a cub, but she was still facing danger—this time from the inside. She suffered from hydrocephalus, a condition that causes brain swelling, which can lead to mental impairment, vision issues, and death. Her forehead was already protruding, she had difficulties socializing with other bears, she was growing slowly, and her vision was becoming damaged. So the nonprofit that runs the sanctuary where she lives got in touch with Romain Pizzi, a South African veterinary surgeon, and asked him to do the first ever brain surgery on a bear.

The six hour surgery was no picnic, but Pizzi performed with remarkable precision and Champa is now recovering well. She is already growing and has become much more social with the other bears. While the surgery can't undo all the negative effects of the condition, Champa's life is already drastically improved. As Pizzi put it, “Operating on one bear won’t save bears from extinction, and making life better for one bear won’t change the world. But the world of that one bear is changed forever.”

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April 28, 2013 - 2:00pm
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