An ailing cougar from Wildlife Safari had been having some health issues lately and safari veterinary personnel have been trying to figure out what all was going on with the big cat.

“He started losing weight,” said Leila Goulet, the village and education supervisor at Wildlife Safari. “He’s always had a voracious appetite and never stopped eating, but he was eating, eating, eating, and was still dropping weight.”

Goulet said Johnny, the 13-year-old male cougar, came to the safari as a rescue animal. He had been recently diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, which is a pituitary gland tumor. Goulet said the disease has never been seen in cougars and is very rare in any kind of feline. The MRI was needed to find out whether the tumor could be surgically removed. If it is, there is a good chance of survival.

So Mercy Outpatient Imaging let the safari crew bring the big cat into its facility in the Harvard Medical Park in Roseburg to see what they could find. They were looking mainly for a pituitary lesion in the brain and a chest nodule.

Tim Smith, manager of the imaging center, said it was a day of firsts.

“I think it’s everybody’s first cougar,” he laughed. “But we like to help out the community when we can and Wildlife Safari is an important part of the community.”

The procedure was a bit different than having a human on the table, and safety was a big concern.

“Just the position, you have to think about how you’re going to lay the cougar there — is it going to fit in the coil? Just all these things you think about that you don’t know until the cat comes in,” Smith said. “Of course we’re always worried about safety with a wild animal, and we make sure that people don’t walk into the magnets, safety is our number one concern.”

Staff got the facility ready to go, and when the safari van pulled in, Johnny was rolled into the prep room and the technicians took over from there.

Once the cougar was prepped and sedated, the scan took about 20 minutes. The scan focused on the head for the pituitary gland, the chest for a possible mass, and the abdomen.

“What we hope to see from the MRI is whether or not it is his adrenal gland, whether it’s a pituitary issue, and whether it’s operable or not. We are just so grateful for this MRI from Mercy, which will give us much more information than we could find with our tools at safari,” Goulet said.

Kathleen Nickel, a hospital spokeswoman, said Mercy offered the service to Wildlife Safari for no charge.

“Because of the importance of being able to support a really important community asset like Wildlife Safari and provide a service to them and support the organization, this is a community service of Mercy,” Nickel said.

The pictures from the MRI will be sent off to animal specialists to read and interpret.

If the tumor is operable, the veterinarian staff at the Wildlife Safari will operate.

The results won’t be available for a few days, but whatever the outcome, without the MRI being donated, safari officials said they would not have been able to give Johnny the cougar a chance to get treated.

Reporter Dan Bain can be reached at 541-957-4221 or e-mail at dbain@nrtoday.com.

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Dan Bain is the health reporter for The News-Review. He previously worked at KPIC and 541 Radio.

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