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Fort Worth OB-GYN makes history delivering baby gorilla: "Our love for knows no bounds"

North Texas OB-GYN makes history delivering baby gorilla at the Fort Worth Zoo
North Texas OB-GYN makes history delivering baby gorilla at the Fort Worth Zoo 05:02

FORT WORTH – By now you may have heard, history was made at the Fort Worth Zoo. 

Fort Worth Zoo

The zoo announced this week that a baby gorilla was born in January via a cesarean section – a surgery that was performed by a doctor that typically operates on humans. 

CBS News Texas' Madison Sawyer spoke with the doctor who performed the surgery, but this wasn't their first time meeting.

Dr. Jamie Walker Erwin, a local OB-GYN, has been helping the zoo with a complicated situation. 

In January, zoo keepers told Dr. Erwin that their pregnant gorilla, named Sekani, was seen displaying unusual behaviors like holding her head. They suspected she might have headaches, a sign of preeclampsia, a potentially fatal pregnancy complication for mom and baby.

Testing confirmed the diagnosis and Dr. Erwin started making calls to assemble a team.

It was a top secret operation, Dr. Erwin said.

Much like patient-physician privacy, think primates-physician privacy.

Dr. Erwin assembled her dream team in secret, including a surgical assistant, anesthesiologist and neonatologist.

The zoo needed a seasoned team to handle the delicate surgery, one that had handled hundreds of c-sections together over the years – including Madison's.

"When I looked at that press release, and I saw your name, I thought, of course, of course you would be the OB that they would choose to deliver a baby gorilla," Madison said. "And then to do this for a gorilla...what was that like?"

Fort Worth Zoo

"Things I won't forget is when they shaved her abdomen, like she's got this really thick fur and so we needed to shave her abdomen down so we can make an incision and just how much fur there was," Dr. Erwin said.

Much of the surgery was the same, including the human touch.

"But the incision was made exactly the same place, exactly the same size," Dr. Erwin said. "Her skin...the only thing that was different was was her skin felt like cutting into leather. But then after that, it was almost like autopilot."

Even the care the premature baby gorilla received immediately upon birth was the same.

"They started doing normal resuscitation just like you would do on a human baby, getting her warm was important, getting her breathing was important and getting her to eat soon," Dr. Erwin said. "So there's some photos where she has a nasal cannula and she's getting supplemental oxygen just to help her open up her lungs."

The team had delivered life into the world thousands of times before, but they still didn't know what to expect this time.

"I thought, what is it going to look like and we didn't know if it was a girl or a boy and she just came out and she was just the cutest thing... just a little furrier than what I'm used to... but it's like, wow... look at this. We just did this. It's amazing. Really unforgettable."

And now, Dr. Erwin's specialty of women is crossing over into a new species.

"Our love for women... it knows no bounds and it can cross over to other species. And it's a calling and I love that I was able to use my gifts for another mom that was in trouble. Because I love my job. And I love what I do and I know that God has gifted me with a skill set and the know how to take care of females... human and otherwise."

Dr. Erwin likely saved Sekani's life as well as the baby gorilla's life. 

The baby has been named Jameela, which means beautiful in Swahili.

"But also, Jameela is kinda like Jamie. So we're naming the baby Jamila for Jamie because of her assistance in her immediate response to our needs," said Linda Roberts, supervisor of primates at the Fort Worth Zoo.

"I just can't wait to go visit her and see her and for my kids to go see her and watch her grow up," Dr. Erwin said. "I love that I'm connected to this baby girl gorilla... Jameela forever."

Fort Worth Zoo

Despite repeated attempts to reunite mother and baby, Sekani showed little interest in caring for Jameela, something zoo keepers believe may be a result of her never experiencing the flood of hormones associated with a full-term pregnancy and natural birth.

But both are doing great and a team of more than 40 Fort Worth Zoo employees are now focusing their attention on using another female gorilla at the zoo as a surrogate mom for Jameela, who has already doubled in weight since being born.

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