Hope is a turtle who was born with a condition so rare, that there isn’t even a name for it in veterinary medicine. This tiny reptile was born with an exposed heart and you can actually see it beating outside of her shell. In humans, this condition is known as ectopia cordis and happens every one in 126,000 births. But when it comes to pets, veterinarians have yet to encounter similar issues.
Hope is an Albino Pinkbelly Sideneck turtle. She was adopted by Mike Aquilina of New Jersey. When he got her, Hope was just a little bit bigger than the size of a quarter. Given her condition, Aquilina knew he had to be extremely careful with her. “She’s just so visibly vulnerable. You can see her weakness,” Aquilina said. He added, “I was really scared to touch her at all just because she’s so small and she’s delicate and because of how big I am.”
Hope is the only known turtle in the entire world that has this rare condition. “When I look at [the heart], it looks like a raisin underneath a piece of gum that’s like, trying to inflate but can’t,” Aquilina said in a video. He feeds her using tongs to avoid handling her too much. When Aquilina arrives home from work, he puts his head next to the tank and Hope recognizes him and prepares to be fed.
Regardless of her condition, Hope has thrived under Aquilina’s care and continues to grow. A vet told him that the hole will remain the same size as Hope gets bigger. Though he has no guidance caring for a turtle like this, he uses common sense and extra care. Aquilina said, “To see how fragile and delicate life is and to see her living without worry in her condition, it’s inspiring to me. She has no idea that something’s wrong. It doesn’t affect her in any way at all.”