Bringing Brenda Back

By Sybil Erden, Founder  – December 29, 2002

Brenda and her mate Bob are two of the Rainbow Lories who came to us 1½ years ago. They were part of the Oronoco Rescue, a court ordered confiscation of 60+ birds, that MAARS collaborated in several years ago. Brenda and Bob had lived in awful circumstances, as a breeding pair. No one knows how old they are, or what their life histories have been.

In early December 2002 a team of Veterinarians, headed by Dr. Karen Rosenthal and Dr. Matt Johnston, returned to The Oasis to do blood work-up as part of a study. (See the article: The University of Pennsylvania Vets Visit.) Each bird was given a brief physiological examination before having blood drawn. Several of the Lories were noted to have enlarged livers. Since Lories and other fruitivors/nectar eaters are prone to a serious, potentially fatal problem called “Iron Storage Disease,” we immediately contacted our veterinarian in Phoenix, Dr. Todd Driggers, who is an excellent avian surgeon with a mobile practice. He agreed to come down to the sanctuary and do follow-up work, including biopsies, on some of The Oasis” birds.

Todd and his assistant arrived before 9A.M. on Friday December 27th. Their equipment, a portable surgical cart and all the supplies needed to do on site surgery, was quickly moved into our small Hospital building. The Oasis” Associate Director, TJ Georgitso and I began to set up recovery cages with towels and heat lamps. Then we were ready. TJ brought Brenda in first.

Brenda is a plucked little bird. She is not human-friendly, and was quite nervous and feisty. Todd examined her carefully. Then she was put under anesthesia, using Isoflurine gas. During surgery she was warmed on a heating pad. I watched as a tiny, ¼” incision was made in the abdominal wall. A laproscope, a metal tube with an eyepiece, which shines a light into the body through its tip, was carefully inserted into the opening. The doctor spent several minutes looking into the small sleeping bird”s body, checking out her heart, lungs, and finally taking a biopsy, a miniscule sample of her liver for examination by a pathologist. The entire procedure took, perhaps, ten minutes.

During this entire operation, Todd”s assistant kept careful check on the flow of anesthetic and on Brenda”s respiration. All was going very well. The gas was turned off. The bird was, in theory, now out of danger and beginning to wake up. As the medical personnel prepared the tissue sample, I watched Brenda. Suddenly she took a very deep breath, shuddered and stopped breathing. I called out to Dr. Driggers, who immediately sprang into action. They turned up the pure oxygen and picked up her limp little body. Seconds passed and she remained limp and inert.

I began to shake and left the room. I went to tell TJ that Brenda was gone. Moments later I walked back to the Hospital. As I approached, Dr. Driggers stuck his head out of the door and gave me a hand signal indication everything was OK.

My eyes opened wide. I couldn”t believe it! She came back???

He explained to me how he had taken a syringe and filled it with pure oxygen and, through the incision, blown the air into one of her air sacs. This, somehow, caused her to begin breathing again.

Todd told me that Brenda”s heart had never stopped. And that, in birds, there is a period of approximately 10-20 seconds after breathing stops that the heart may remain beating. So long as respiration can be started again during this extremely brief time period, the bird will be fine.

Brenda was wrapped in a towel and placed in the recovery cage. Within a matter of a very few minutes she was awake and climbing around the cage, a bit hung over from the anesthesia, but none the worse for her harrowing experience. It was miraculous to watch.

Over the next five or six hours Todd performed biopsies on several other birds with no additional problems. Blood work was retested on several birds utilizing the VetScan analyzer. (Note: This piece of state-of-the-art equipment, recently loaned to the Oasis by Abaxis, the VetScan”s manufacturer, will allow the sanctuary to do blood work on Oasis” birds, on site, for half the cost of sending to an outside lab.) Both TJ and Andrea Gaines, The Oasis” other full-time staff person, had the opportunity to peer through the “scope” and see what the inside universe of a bird looks like. TJ also learned how to draw blood. At the time I am writing the pathology reports have not returned, but things look promising. And due to Dr. Drigger”s quick and appropriate response to the life-threatening situation, Brenda is with us today …

(For more information about Iron Storage Disease see the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery, Vol.10, No.3, Sept. 2002, Iron Storage Disease in Birds: Speculation on Etiology and Implications for Captive Husbandry, Sheppard and Dierenfeld)