David Kergosien used to toss the pigskin around King Field on Friday nights as quarterback of the Brookhaven High School Panthers.
Years later, he has become known for performing life-saving surgery on “Jaws,” a young Kemp ridley sea turtle with a severe head trauma.
Since then, news of the sea turtle has traveled far and wide. Newspapers from Dayton, Ohio, all the way to Anchorage, Alaska, have carried stories about “Jaws.”
Currently, Kergosien is a veterinary surgery specialist and the chief surgeon at MedVet Medical and Cancer Centers for Pets in Mandeville, La., and MedVet New Orleans.
David’s mother and father still live in Brookhaven, and are quite proud of their son’s veterinary surgical work.
“We are very happy for David. It’s not the first time he’s come across ‘exotic’ animals in his line of work. Sadly, people have brought in sea animals that didn’t make it. So it’s nice to see that he was able to save this one,” said David’s mom, Linda Kergosien.
David’s father, Hunter Kergosien, has family from Bay St. Louis, an area just down the road from where David’s Medvet clinic is located. The ecosystem in the area has been threatened in recent years by a number of catastrophic events.
First, Hurricane Katrina ravished the area. Then the BP oil spill disrupted, perhaps permanently, sea life in the bay and Gulf. Linda then, sees her son’s work with Jaws as part of a collective effort to rehabilitate and restore the ecosystem in the area.
“It means a lot to us, anything that can be done to help the ecosystem down there is a big deal given all that’s happened to the area,” she says.
On July 2, 2012, a boater called the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, to report the injured turtle, and soon afterwards, biologist Paul Cook rescued it from the Delcambre Canal at Vermilion Bay. At the time, the young turtle wasn’t moving, and the prognosis for Jaws seemed to suggest the very worst.
However, in the course of a 30-to-40-minute surgery, Dr. Kergosien did a number of things to the turtle, that helped to stabilize the animal’s condition. He performed what is called a procedure called an external skeletal fixation, on the young turtle, an effective method of fracture repair in animals, and used a number of stainless steel pins to the get the turtle’s broken jaw to join together again.
Then Kergosien inserted an esophageal feeding tube to provide nutrition to the ailing turtle. After the surgery, and once the groggy turtle awoke from an anesthesia nap, Jaws was then ready for the next phase of his recovery.
Eventually, Dr. Kergosien’s heroic efforts would allow the folks at the Audobon Institute to take custody of the young turtle, and help to nurse her back to full strength.
“It’s impossible to tell if the turtle is male or female without a DNA test, it was simply too young,” said Kergosien. However, instead of calling the turtle an impersonal “it,” the first responders decided to refer to Jaws as a she.
For the injured sea turtle, the best guess is that a propeller was the source of the damage. “It’s definitely not something that you would expect to see in the course of the turtle’s normal habitat,” said Kergosien.
Just over a year later, Jaws was released back into the Gulf, probably certain to be cautious of oblong-shaped objects with quickly moving propellers floating above her.
“Hopefully, Jaws is swimming with friends,” Dr. Kergosien said.
The Brookhaven native is quick to praise others for the rescue.
“I want to give credit to all the folks at the Audobon Institute, especially Bob MacClean. They are the true ones to thank. They spent more time with “Jaws” than anybody and were responsible for rehabbing (the turtle) back to health,” Kergosien said.
Bob MacClean is the staff veterinarian at the Audobon Institute’s research center.
While there’s no doubt his parents are proud of him, the veterinarian said he learned a great deal from his parents while growing up in Brookhaven.
“My parents taught me that hard work pays off. I learned to pay attention to detail from them. But persistence is probably the biggest thing I got from my parents.”
Besides football, Kergosien played baseball and tennis at Ole Brook.
Kemp ridley turtles are considered the smallest marine turtle in the world according to the Office of Protected Resources. They are also considered the most endangered.