James Fallavollita, professor of medicine and cardiologist, has performed echocardiograms on humans, mice, rats, hamsters, pigs, dogs, sheep and a cat. When the opportunity arose to work with a different species, he couldn’t pass it up.
“I’m not uncomfortable with taking the machine to an animal I have never seen before and doing a procedure,” says Fallavollita, who, with the assistance of local sonographer John Gon, conducted an “echo” at the Buffalo Zoo last week on Kwizera, a 200-plus-pound female gorilla receiving a physical examination before heading to the Memphis Zoo for breeding. “I was kind of intrigued by the idea of adding another animal to my repertoire.”
Last week’s echocardiogram actually was the sixth Fallavollita had completed on a gorilla. He performed one last year on Kwizera with the help of Thomas Cimato, a fellow medicine department faculty member and cardiologist, and did four more this summer on the zoo’s four other gorillas—three females and a male. The procedure, which involves using sound waves to produce moving images of the heart inside the chest, enables doctors to assess everything from the thickness of the heart muscle to the health of valves that regulate the flow of blood through the organ’s four chambers.