2017 Year in Review: Dr. Ernesto Dominguez, Hospital Director

It’s time to look back on 2017! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2017 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

There is no doubt that the older you get, the faster time goes by. This year has been one of the most challenging, exciting, and difficult years of my personal and professional life. There is always tons of cool patient stories in a year, and it is always difficult to know exactly what to share with our amazing and kind public.

Most of you know that 2017 was a year of many changes and re-structuring of the veterinary department. My supervisor, mentor, colleague, and really good friend Dr. Dave left the Wildlife Center in early 2017. This was a shocking moment for most of us, but for me in particular. I was feeling that I was losing a great mentor and that his departure might compromise my professional development and my goal of getting board certified by the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine. There were multiple questions to answer: How will we replace Dr. Dave? What will happen with my residency program? What will happen with my permanency at WCV? How will we continue working without Dr. Dave’s direction?

There was no option other than to “Embrace the chaos”. That is what I did, and here I am, now the new head veterinarian at the Wildlife Center of Virginia. My dream job was always to be a permanent staff at WCV, and I never thought this dream would come true so quickly and so unexpectedly. From March through July I worked without rest to continue Dr. Dave’s awesome work, and to continue providing the best patient care that wildlife can get. I worked hard to build a solid and professional team, and I can say that I am proud of ALL of my team members. Without the support of Ed and Randy, the Board of Directors, all the staff, and your support, this dream would never be able to come true. Thank all of you for giving me the opportunity to have my dream job.

Another memorable aspect of 2017 has been Bald Eagle admissions. We have more than broken our record of eagle admissions in a single year, and it is so sad to know that most of them have lead levels in their blood. One eagle that really broke my heart was “HK”. “HK” or Bald Eagle # 17-2257 was a majestic bird that was hit by a car. Initially, the eagle had severe internal trauma and a broken leg that we surgically fixed. Everything initially looked like it was going in the right direction, but HK and nature gave me a difficult lesson. Every day I was excited to treat and see HK, but all my knowledge and efforts were challenged by medical complications and HK’s health that slowly deteriorated.  Unfortunately, HK died after seven days of intensive care and medical support. His heart could not handle it anymore, and that day I realized that my heart had connected with him. As the Veterinary Director, my mind started thinking about what we could or should do differently, but I did not find real answers. Finally, I decided to do a necropsy to understand better what happened to HK, and why despite our efforts, HK never got better. I found the answers. HK suffered not just pulmonary [lung] contusions and a broken leg, HK also had a severe lesion on his lower back that caused necrosis [death] of the vertebral bones, and severe nerve damage to his left backside.


HK and 2017 gave me a good lesson: All the effort and energy you put in a patient, project, or personal life, are worth it, even when the result is not as expected. That effort and positive energy is not for you – it is for our world to be a better place.

-- Dr. Ernesto

Check out all of our year-in-review posts!