Andre the sea turtle
Andre, a 177-pound sea turtle, was released off the Florida coast on Aug. 3 after a year of rehabilitation from traumatic injuries. He was found dead on Thursday. Reuters

Andre was a miracle sea turtle, having been found grievously injured off the Florida coast and then saved through extensive experimental surgeries and rehabilitation. But just three weeks after the miracle had been completed and Andre released back into the wild on Aug. 3, he was found dead.

In June 2010, the 177-pound Andre was struck by a boat while swimming near Juno Beach Pier off the Florida coast. His shell was severely cracked and filled with three pounds of sand and a live crab, his lung had collapsed and he had raging infections. But he was found, and taken back to Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, Fla., a small town in Palm Beach County.

There, medical staff used complex experimental procedures to save the turtle's life. Officials used a 'wound vacuum' to draw out all infectious fluids. They also used grafting material to repair Andre's spinal cord, which was exposed, the Palm Beach Post reported.

An orthodontist, Dr. Alberto Vargas, turtle-fied his dental skills and pushed and pulled Andre's shell to promote growth. Each day, caregivers twisted a key that clicked to adjust the braces. Finally, the cracks that remained in his shell were filled by a process normally used for reconstructive surgery after mastectomies, according to the West Palm Beach station WPBF.

But even once his life was no longer in danger, Andre still had months of rehabilitation to go. The orthodontics were not removed until May 2011, nearly a year after he had sustained his injuries. But his story seemed to have a happy ending. On Aug. 3, hundreds of well-wishers joined Loggerhead employees on Juno Beach to release a seemingly healthy Andre back into the sea.

It is a little bittersweet because, you know, we've grown so attached to him, employee Melissa Ranly told WPBF at the time. We hope everything will work out for him.

It didn't. Andre was found dead on the nearby Hutchinson Island on Thursday in such a poor condition that a cause of death could not be determined, the Loggerhead Marinelife Center reported in a statement posted on its Web site. But his plight may help other members of his endangered species, the statement said, because the innovative techniques used to rescue him can now be used to save other turtles with traumatic injuries.

We are committed to making sure sea turtles live in an ocean that is free from threats to their survival, the center said. The sad and unexpected news of Andre's passing reminds us that his plight inspired many people to understand the continued need for ocean conservation.