by Brian Greger
My wife and I adopted Pepe, the 51 year old blind Military Macaw, on July 27, 2007 from Mickaboo. Prior to Pepe being rescued by Mickaboo, Pepe had led a less than ideal parrot life. Pepe had been blind for ~20 years; he had lived in a very small cage with a blanket over it, and he had been fed a mostly peanut diet. Ken and Diana Sena rescued Pepe, and they quickly got Pepe on the right path with lots of care and good nutrition. Upon our adoption, we told Mickaboo that we would pursue cataract surgery for Pepe to restore his vision. Before pursuing eye surgery, we acclimated Pepe to his new cage and surroundings for the first 8 weeks. Pepe showed no signs of vision. He was completely blind without any response to light. Pepe had totally adapted to being a blind bird for the last ~20 years. He would feel out his surroundings and remember the spacial relations. He was then quick to navigate his new surroundings, but he did not show any typical bird body language when we interacted with him. We really wanted to improve his quality of life by restoring some of his vision.
After contacting and consulting with a number of animal ophthalmologists and avian vets including Dr. Speer's office, the consensus was that we should go to UC Davis where they have all the specialties under the same roof. UC Davis had us spend all day waiting for their assessment. At the end of the day, UC Davis's junior ophthalmologist insisted that cataract surgery could not be preformed on Pepe. In their opinion, the lenses had hardened, there were adhesions to the iris which would cause bleeding complications, and there was no equipment small enough to perform removal of such small hardened lenses.
Well, we were not convinced by UC Davis's findings. We went to Dr. Hacker, an animal ophthalmologist practicing in El Cerrito (http://www.animal-eye-specialists.com/) for a second opinion. After a 20 minute examination, Dr. Hacker proclaimed that Pepe was a good candidate for cataract surgery with a 80+% chance of success. Dr. Hacker has been in practice as an animal ophthalmologist since 1986. He is the animal ophthalmologist for the Oakland Zoo. We were very pleased to hear such a positive diagnosis.
On September 25th, we took Pepe to Dr. Hacker's office for the surgery. Dr. Hacker first performed an ultrasound on both eyes to make sure that the retinas were not detached. The ultrasound showed that both eyes were in good shape for the surgery. There were three physicians in attendance at the surgery and two nurses/technicians assisting with the surgery. Dr. Hacker and one of his former residents performed cataract surgery to both eyes, and Dr. Olsen from the Medical Center for Birds provided anesthesia and monitoring during the procedure. The surgery was a success with no complications.
During the first 12 hours of Pepe's recovery, Pepe's eyes were slightly swollen, and Pepe was not unacclimated to his new tube collar and his change in vision. He bounced around the carrier falling over and not knowing what the heck happened to him. He did not eat much; therefore, we decided to assist his nutrition with some syringe feeding. The next morning after the day of surgery, Pepe started to get his bearings, and he started to show some signs of vision responses to light and movement. He also started to eat on his own. After 51 years, Pepe is truly a bird that has learned to quickly adapt. He is a real trooper!
At Pepe's first checkup, Dr. Hacker said his eyes looked great. Dr. Hacker said his vision will continue to improve over 6-8 weeks. Pepe was kept in a kennel for the first two weeks. We applied pain medication drops and steroid anti-inflammatory/ antibiotic drops to his eyes twice a day. We also gave Pepe an anti-fungal oral medication once a day until we stopped the steroid antibiotic drops.
No swelling, no complications, perfect surgery results after just one week. Cataract surgery for birds involves removing the cloudy cataract lenses, but birds' eyes are too small to implant an artificial replacement lens. Therefore, Pepe is able to see but more in the distant. It will take 4-6 weeks for Pepe to fully understand and use his new sight, but he could definitely tell that things are going on around him after the first week.
Ten days after the surgery Pepe had lost a lot of weight, approximately 15%. The oral anti-fungal medicine, Sporanox, really suppressed his appetite. Losing this amount of weight can be quite dangerous for a bird. We reduced the dosage of Sporanox, and he got his collar removed to help him regain weight. Still Pepe did not regain weight, but he stopped losing weight. Finally, we moved Pepe back to his cage, and immediately Pepe started to eat more and regain weight everyday. The kennel was keeping Pepe from relaxing, sleeping well, and eating well. The return to his cage did the trick.
Pepe shows all signs of recovering completely with restored farsighted vision. The biggest change is in his personality. He used to be pretty oppressed or depressed. He did not open his wings; he would get fearful a lot evidenced by his sleek down his feathers, beating of his wings, and then squawking. He is doing all the opposite behaviors now! Since the surgery, he has not once shown his fearful behavior; he now flaps his wings, and he is just a lot more relaxed. We now have him stepping up onto perches. He now gets time out on the play area, and he responds well to step up and step down commands. Pepe's life has been forever changed into a happy, healthy, secure, and enriched life. His behaviors indicate he has a new leash on life. Looks like he will turn out to be a good old bird!
As an older blind macaw, many would not have thought Pepe could turn into such a great companion, but he showed us all just how much a little love and care can do for one of these beautiful creatures. We truly love and respect him!
Hooray for Pepe and many thanks to Dr. Hacker and his team!