GP's medical training helps him save pet tortoise

A Devon GP who saved his pet tortoise's life by giving it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation said his rescue effort was an automatic reaction after his medical training kicked in.

Dr Ben Waterfall: saved pet tortoise Atlas
Dr Ben Waterfall: saved pet tortoise Atlas

Dr Ben Waterfall, a partner at the Brannam Medical Centre in Barnstaple, leapt to the rescue of eight-year-old Atlas after finding him submerged in his water container with just his legs sticking out.

'He was floppy and there was no tone in his legs and he wasn’t breathing or blinking,' Dr Waterfall told GP.

The GP, who has owned Atlas for a year,  swiftly gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation by breathing into his mouth and nostrils.

‘I was quite emotional, I didn’t really think about what I was doing,’ Dr Waterfall said.

Dr Waterfall said his medical training played a part in his quick reaction. ‘We were always told that with drowning you should give people a go. It kicked in without thinking about it.'

After about 6 minutes of breathing through his nose and nostrils, Atlas began to show some signs of life, but it wasn’t until 20 minutes later that the tortoise got some movement back in his legs.

Dr Waterfall later took Atlas to the vet, who checked him over and administered some antibiotics.

‘The vet said that tortoises drowning was quite common, especially in America where they have a lot of swimming pools. But he said he’s never heard of resuscitation described so graphically.'

Dr Waterfall said he wouldn't have made his story public if it hadn’t been for the encouragement of practice staff, who all found the incident ‘very funny’.

One early-morning patient even asked after Atlas after reading his story in the local paper. However Dr Waterfall said he had no plans to put a photo up of Atlas in his consulting room.

‘But the staff have put the story up on the patient information screen.'

Atlas is now back to his normal self, although Dr Waterfall said that being a tortoise, it was difficult to tell whether he had suffered any sort of brain damage.

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