Friday, August 20, 2010

Wounded pride

Veterinarian performs challenging surgery on injured bird


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

A bald eagle undergoes surgery to repair a gunshot wound to its leg. Dr. Randy Acker removed dead bone and replaced it with synthetic bone grafts before stabilizing the leg in an attempt to save it. If the eagle loses its leg, it will need to be euthanized.

It was just another leg—sort of. While Dr. Randy Acker of the Sun Valley Animal Center has had plenty of experience with orthopedic surgery on dogs, the patient he was called in to deal with on Wednesday afternoon was more exotic.

An 8.5-pound bald eagle was brought into the Ketchum-area clinic from the Treasure Valley Veterinary Hospital in Meridian, where it had undergone several surgeries in an attempt to repair a gunshot wound to its leg.

"Bones are bones, to a degree," Acker said.

Acker was called in to help the animal by fellow vet Dr. Rick Shackelford of the Treasure Valley hospital. Shackelford had already attempted to repair the eagle's leg, but with no success.

"When I looked at the X-rays, I kind of went, 'Oh, Rick, I don't know,'" Acker said. "It's a pretty substantial amount of bone loss."

The eagle lost approximately 2.5 inches of bone to the gunshot, and Acker said he removed more dead bone from the wound as part of the surgery. The procedure also required a bone graft, using a synthetic bone substitute known as Graftys.

The leg was then stabilized with an external fixator, which holds the bone in place as it heals.

Shackelford said that if all goes well, the eagle could recover within two months. However, Acker said the eagle's recovery is by no means guaranteed.

"I'd say it's 50-50," Acker said. "This is kind of his last chance."

If the surgery is not successful, the eagle would need to be euthanized. Shackelford said eagles are simply too heavy to support themselves on one leg.

The bird was found April 1 on a farm near Eagle, in southwest Idaho.

"The eagle had obviously been shot," Shackelford said. "This is one of the most severe wounds that I've ever attempted to repair."

Shooting or even chasing a bald eagle is a federal offense, punishable by prison time or up to $5,000 under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. This eagle's shooter has not been found.

The bird had likely been shot a week before it was found, and infection had caused additional damage and bone loss. Shackelford said he had tried multiple times to repair the leg, but had been unsuccessful.

The eagle is recovering in Boise with the rehabilitator who first discovered the injured bird. Shackelford said the injuries would be re-evaluated in a month.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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