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Oakland Hospital Turns to Zoo for Help in Last-Ditch Effort to Save Patient's Life

'I believe the Oakland Zoo saved this man's life'

NBC Universal, Inc.

Have a question about when the Oakland Zoo is open? Or, perhaps, want to know what times the elephants are fed? "" is the email address you will want to use.

As it turns out, it is also the email address to use if you need to save a man's life. At least, that's what Dr. Colin Feeney, Director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Alameda Health System Highland Hospital did.

"I believe the Oakland Zoo saved this man's life," Feeney said.

The story begins in late January when an elderly man was admitted to Highland Hospital. Feeney said, at first, it looked as if the man might be suffering from food poisoning, but he did not respond to treatment.

"Despite potent antibiotics, he got worse and worse," Feeney said.

Eventually, test results revealed a parasite, one rarely found in the United States, was attacking the patient's intestines. Feeney knew, from experience, just what medicine the man needed to save his life.

"I had had a patient like this 10 years ago who had this infection and died before he was able to get the medication," Feeney said. "I did not want that to happen again."

The medicine Feeney needed was a powerful antibiotic called ivermectin. It is approved for use in humans in a pill form, but for a man whose intestines have stopped functioning, that was not going to work. Feeney needed an injectable form of the drug and that is only approved in the United States for use in animals.

He contacted the FDA for an emergency use authorization but that was going to take time – time the patient didn't have. He also hit a wall with the drug's manufacturer.

With time running out, he wrote an email with the subject "Emergency" and sent it off to the zoo.

Jazmine Gregory, Receptionist and Group Services Coordinator at the zoo, is a member of the zoo staff who monitors the general email inbox. It is normally filled, Gregory said, with hundreds of non-urgent inquiries about tickets and zoo hours.

"Nothing like this email that came in," Gregory said. "I contacted the vet hospital right away."

Dr. Alex Herman, Vice President of Veterinary Services, said her staff sprang into action, gathering the supplies Feeney needed and, in just a matter of hours, handing him the medicine through the window of his car as he drove past.

The patient survived.

"That we could change the trajectory of a case with something so simple was very meaningful to everyone around here," Herman said.

Once it was clear the patient was going to recover, Feeney sent a letter to the zoo thanking them for all his help. He also renewed his membership.

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