Alerts
Masks are Required

Wearing masks helps us keep each other safe. Masks are required in our facilities.

If you cannot wear a mask, contact your care team before you visit to discuss telehealth. Patients and visitors not wearing masks will not be permitted to enter.

Skip Navigation

Nerve Transfer Surgery Improves Function for Tiger Attack Survivor

February 26, 2020

A Topeka zookeeper is on the road to recovery, thanks to the fast action of her colleagues and the expertise of her care team.

Kristyn Hayden-Ortega was cleaning the enclosure of a Sumatran tiger, Sanjiv. Kristyn reacted fast when she realized an unlocked door had allowed the animal to enter her space, but the tiger moved faster. Fellow keepers immediately tried to lure 400-pound Sanjiv away from their fallen friend, but before they could catch his attention, he’d inflicted serious wounds to Kristyn's face, neck and arm.

Urgent care at her local hospital addressed her time-critical needs, but as she healed, it became evident that she'd sustained severe arm nerve damage.

She turned to plastic surgery experts who specialize in microsurgery of the hand and arm at The University of Kansas Health System.

Her care team saw that Kristyn's arm was paralyzed, except for the use of her hand and a little bit of extension of the elbow. Doctors recommended a nerve transfer procedure. In this procedure, surgeons identify the nerves that are still working and plug them into the muscles that flex the elbow and move the shoulder.

The care team hopes for significant improvement to Kristyn's arm nerve damage, knowing it can take months for the nerve transfer surgery to bring about its full benefit. The procedure, available in the region only at the health system, can be used to treat a wide range of injuries.

Following the procedure, Kristyn returned to work at the Topeka Zoo in a limited capacity. She looks forward to making progress.

"I don't necessarily want to rock climb, but I would really like to hug my kiddo with two hands," she says.

She'd also like to reunite with Sanjiv.

"He's a great cat and a really easy-to-work-with guy," she says. "This could happen to anybody."

Explore more news, events and media