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Surgeons perform eye surgery on tiny monkey for the first time in NE Ohio

Posted at 7:16 AM, Jun 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-15 07:23:39-04

For the first time in the world, surgeons performed eye surgery on a very tiny monkey, right here in Northeast Ohio!

A veterinarian at the Akron Zoo first noticed one of her monkeys was having trouble seeing, but traditional veterinarians were unable to perform the surgery, because the monkey’s eyes were too small.

Dr. Brittany Rizzo said she ended up reaching out to an ophthalmologist, who treats humans.

Dr. Rizzo described little Ana, as weighing just a little more than one pound. She and her brother Rio likes back scratches and snacks.

“They're really fun to work with,” said Dr. Rizzo, Associate Veterinarian at Akron Zoo.

Ana is a golden lion tamarin.

Dr. Rizzo said she noticed Ana developing cataracts on her eyes at age 13.

“[Ana] started to miss some of her landings,” she said, “They’re tree dwelling monkeys, and they jump from branch to branch, and she started to miss a couple of those.”

Dr. Rizzo reached to Dr. William Wiley at the Cleveland Eye Clinic, after veterinary surgeons were unable to perform cataract surgery on little Ana.

“Ana is functionally about the size of a premature infant,” said Dr. Wiley, Cleveland Eye Clinic Medical Director.

While a typical human eye is the size of a grape, Dr. Wiley said Ana’s eye is the size of a pea.

“This was the first surgery ever done on a golden lion tamarin, no other surgery has been done on a primate this size,” said Dr. Wiley.

Due to her small size, Dr. Wiley said it look a lot of problem solving and testing with micro instruments and laser guidance.

“We had a mobile medical equipment company bring in special equipment that was fit for her eyes, so we had to design special equipment that would fit for her eyes,” he said.

Dr. Wiley said he has done more than 20,000 cataract surgeries for humans.

“It was interesting,” he said, “Every day, I go to work, and my kids are like, ‘Oh, ok, dad's going to work,’ and this time when I told them I was operating on a monkey, they were like, ‘No way! Dad, we've got to be there!’”

With his family watching on the other side of the glass wall, medical experts from Clear Laser Choice, the Cleveland Eye Clinic and the Great Lakes Veterinary Specialists all came together for free to help Ana see again.

After months of testing, the surgery was finally performed.

“She's making all of the progress, she's healing very well,” said Dr. Rizzo, “We're very hopeful that she'll do great.”

Rizzo said Ana should be fully healed hopefully in the next month.

News 5 plans to track her progress and will let you know of any updates.