How to (ex) fix a broken bone

Dr. Rose operates on the osprey's wing
Dr. Rose operates on the osprey’s wing

Also read: How to (ex) fix a broken bone part 2

The medical staff at Peace River Wildlife Center does amazing things on a daily basis.  But the extent of the injuries we see and the number of species we treat make it impossible to do everything for every patient.  That’s when we rely on the kindness of strangers.

The “stranger” in this case is Dr. Scott Rose, the chief of surgery at the Veterinary Surgery Center of Sarasota, and really, he is no stranger to PRWC.  He helped us a few years ago by performing orthopedic surgery on our resident sandhill crane, Chickie Pants.

If you think about your own health care, you see a different practitioner for every part of your body, and often specialists even for those.  Your dental hygienist cleans your teeth, while your dentist does the fillings, but you have to go to an endodontist to get a root canal done.

While “Fluffy” is under anesthesia for her spay, your veterinarian will clean your dog’s teeth, trim her nails, express her anal glands, and groom her.  Try asking your dentist to check your prostate and cut your hair next time you’re in for a cleaning.  On second thought, don’t do that.  It won’t go well.

The osprey's x-ray post-op
The osprey’s x-ray post-op

Even veterinarians and rehabbers have their limitations though.  PRWC recently admitted an osprey with a fractured wing.  It was a good place for a fracture, if such a thing exists.  The metacarpals (like our hand bones) were broken mid-shaft, so in theory they could heal without having callus formation (the exuberant bone growth that heals a broken bone) impinge on the joint above or below the fracture site, decreasing mobility of the affected joint.  But if we had to keep the wing splinted for up to six weeks while the bones heal, the joints could freeze up from disuse—even with physical therapy, which these bird view as pure torture and respond to in a most un-calm way.

Enter Dr. Rose, a board-certified veterinary surgeon.  He was able to apply an external fixation (called an “ex-fix” in veterinary vernacular) devise that stabilizes the fracture site, while allowing the rest of the wing to have full range of motion.  It will still take approximately six weeks for the bone to knit back together, but hopefully the joints will be able to function properly for the bird to be released.  He needs to be able to fly properly to feed himself and fend off predators.

The diet of ospreys is 99% live fish, unique for hawks in North America.  To facilitate catching and holding their prey, osprey have barbs on the pads of their feet and a reversible toe, resulting in two toes at the front and two at the back of the foot while grasping a fish (similar to the owl’s foot.)  When flying with a fish, they line it up head first to reduce wind resistance.

Osprey have the unique ability to hover, which is a remarkably effective way to snag fish.  They dive onto prey feet first, and so shop only the top three feet of water, relying on surface-schooling fish and those in shallow water.  A well-studied bird, the osprey’s fishing success rate is up to 70% and he spends on average 12 minutes hunting for prey before making a catch.  Pretty much the same rates as our WaterLine fishing writers, I’m sure.

This Saturday. November 17, PRWC will have outreach representatives at two different events:  The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program (CHNEP) Nature Festival and the Englewood Beach Waterfest.

The 19th annual CHNEP Nature Festival will be held in Laishley Park this year from 11a.m. to 3p.m.  Admission is free and more than 30 exhibitors will be in attendance.  There will also be food vendors, art, music, animals, and lots of fun, family-friendly activities.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM