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Blind Sea Turtle Sees Again with Life-Changing Surgery

Jul 17, 2014 11:19 AM EDT

A blind sea turtle found stranded in May has now fully recovered thanks to rescue crew and a life-changing surgery, and is once again swimming free in the open ocean.

Briar, the 200-pound female loggerhead turtle, was released Tuesday on a beach in Charleston, S.C. as hundreds of well-wishers bid her farewell.

But Briar's future did not always look so bright. In May 2013, she was found washed ashore on Myrtle Beach, according to WCSC, emaciated and covered in barnacles - signs that she was too exhausted to even move.

Rescue workers from the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program, who have been caring for Briar for the past 13 months, did not expect this feeble, broken down turtle to survive the week. According to aquarium spokesperson Kate Dittloff, Briar was severely anemic and showed poor vital signs.

Some staffers "arrived at work each morning with their fingers crossed that Briar had made it through the night," Dittloff said.

But thanks to the caring treatment of the aquarium team, over the next six months the turtle was barnacle free, and regained her strength - packing on a healthy 50 pounds - with a steady diet of crabs and fish.

However, The Dodo reported, another complication emerged when the staff noticed the turtle was having trouble finding its food and discovered she had developed cataracts that threatened blindness.

Dr. Ann Cook, a specialist in veterinary ophthalmology from Animal Eye Care of the Lowcountry, performed a life-changing surgery that restored Briar's eyesight.

"For a few weeks, Briar seemed to be suffering from a case of stage fright because she seemed to prefer feeding on the crabs at night while no one was watching," the aquarium wrote on their website. "We were finally able to watch Briar successfully catch the live crabs and we knew then that she would be able to survive in the wild on her own!"

The public finally said goodbye to Briar on Tuesday at the Isle of Palms County Park. The release will be held in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the Charleston County parks and Recreation Commission.

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