September 12, 2017
On September 11, Dr. Ernesto performed a necropsy of Bald Eagle HK (patient #17-2257) to determine what injuries the eagle may have sustained and what might have caused the eagle’s death.
The necropsy revealed that HK was in good body condition, meaning the bird was likely doing well before the collision and during his subsequent hospitalization.
Dr. Ernesto examined the right leg fracture site and found that the pins were adequately placed and intact – the surgical repair of the fracture had the potential to be successful. However, Dr. Ernesto found signs of vascular compression in the right leg, a result of trauma from the collision and surgical repair. Severe swelling cause lack of blood flow and tissue deterioration in the leg and foot as HK was healing post-surgery.
Dr. Ernesto also identified pulmonary and liver contusions that affected the eagle’s breathing and blood circulation, making it difficult for HK to properly oxygenate tissue; this explains why HK had difficulties while under anesthesia.
The most surprising and important discovery during the necropsy was an injury to the eagle’s spine; Dr. Ernesto found severely necrotic thoracic vertebrae (the equivalent of vertebrae in the lower back). Both above and below the dead section of bone, the vertebrae were healthy and intact; the necrotic bone was caused by severe and localized trauma to that section of the spine, likely sustained during the collision. Dr. Ernesto had never seen necrotic vertebrae like this, but further research revealed that there is no successful treatment for this type of injury.
The spinal injury, combined with swelling and compression of nerves, caused HK to lose function in his left leg as well as his fractured right leg.
These injuries could not have been identified through radiographs; only a necropsy could have shown the extent of HK’s internal injuries. Had HK recovered from the metatarsal fracture, he would still have suffered severe and long-term neurologic damage.