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July 2020: Dr. Kristen Rivers

Posted By Administration, Friday, July 17, 2020

AAV Member Since: 


What was the first bird job you ever had?

The first job I had working with birds was at an educational nature center in Florida. It was here where I learned how to care for the sick, injured, and orphaned native birds (and mammals)! I was able to be hands-on with everything ranging on weight checks, medical care, and rehabilitation efforts!

Most memorable AAV experience or contribution

While my time with AAV has been short, my most memorable AAV experience thus far is participating in the mentorship program! Last year at ExoticsCon I visited the AAV table and talked with Christal about my concerns regarding a lack of mentorship for avian and exotic medicine (in my rural area). She talked with me about the program and I jumped at the opportunity! I can call/text/email/facetime this group for case help; albeit, they make me work for the answers!! I am beyond thankful to have an amazing group of people at my fingertips!

What is your favorite avian species and why?

I genuinely love all avian species, so it is extremely hard to narrow down a favorite! While I love all my avian patients, I have an interest and love for penguins but also for birds of prey! I have a specific love for the Harpy Eagle! Eagles are some of the most majestic creatures I have ever had the privilege of observing, much less being able to work on / treat! They are powerful, determined, and fearless. They have legs almost as thick as our wrists and their wingspan over 6ft! They are one of the marvels of this world! It would be a dream come true to be able to one day see these amazing eagles in their natural habitat.

What was the last interesting avian medical or surgical issue you dealt with in your work?

I am one of the veterinarians for Wing-It, who is a part of the Tulsa Audubon Society. They are focused on the rehabilitation of orphaned, sick, injured or otherwise displaced wildlife with the goal of releasing them back into the wild. Daily, we get calls regarding wildlife in need or perceived need. Recently, I got a call from our local game warden regarding a grounded Bald Eagle. She had been grounded for several days next to a lake and good Samaritans were becoming concerned for her health and safety. I got the call from our game warden and he promptly brought her to the clinic! On presentation she was quiet, alert, and responsive; we anesthetized her and started the work-up. Her physical exam was overall unremarkable, with no external wounds noted. Sedated x-rays were taken and again, no obvious wounds/fractures/abnormalities noted. I made a few "phone a friend" calls for help regarding this big girl but again, no one could seem to find an explanation as to why she was grounded. She was sent to a federally licensed rehabber for one month. About a week ago, I got her back to re-evaluate her. According to the rehabber, she was doing well and able to fly from perch to perch. On distance exam, she was feistier than ever, and I was hopeful! We left her alone to observe; this time she had an obvious wing droop, which she did not have before. I called the rehabber who stated the droop was never there, so we were all a bit perplexed. I called my friend and colleague, Dr. Backues; she is Tulsa Zoo's Director of Animal Health. I brought her to Dr. B and her team the following day. Once again, there was nothing to report on x-rays and the only change noted was a unilateral wing droop. We are consulting with the MN Raptor Center, but we are highly suspicious she has radial nerve damage. While this is not the most exciting surgical or medicine case, it has taught me so much! Time in an interesting thing – and even though we want answers right away - sometimes - we must be patient. This case has also taught me that collaboration is the key! We should rely on our colleague’s knowledge and experience to help us navigate cases for the betterment of our patients. Teamwork makes the dream work!

Best benefits of AAV membership?

In my opinion, the benefits of AAV are countless! There are resources for you as a member and non-member, with the website being a wonderful tool for my clients - and myself! I also love the networking opportunities that have come from AAV. I have met so many wonderful people at conferences; people who continue to stay in contact with me throughout my career! I have even been able to speak with members and mentors on the phone via text, or at times, FaceTime! I am beyond grateful for the mentorship! No matter where you are at in your career, there is ALWAYS someone happy to guide you! I am grateful for this association and all they have to offer!

If you had not chosen your present career, what would you be doing?

If I had not become a veterinarian, I would have become a marine biologist. I am originally from Florida and the ocean life with all it has to offer is amazing! My father and I would go to the lake or beach and explore; collecting whatever neat thing we would find on the beach. We would talk about the ecosystems and how each creature – small or big – played their own important role. I guess my love and fascination for marine life stems him!

What was your favorite class or activity in vet school/vet tech school/college?

While I enjoyed a large portion of my coursework in veterinary school, I particularly loved small animal internal medicine and cardiology. Each of these courses provided their own set of challenges and interesting cases.

Describe an anecdote that would be of interest to your colleagues

About 4 weeks ago, I got the call to examine a bald eagle. I have gotten several calls in the past to examine wildlife and birds of prey, including bald eagles, so this call was not anything out of the norm. She was brought in by a game warden and immediately sedated for evaluation and x-rays (not the eagle in the above story). After the work-up, she was placed in a large enclosure where she could recover from anesthesia. About 20-30 minutes later, I noted she was awake but incredibly quiet – and still – lying on her side in the corner of the enclosure. Unfortunately, I had failed to get a weight on this girl while she was under anesthesia (ROOKIE MISTAKE) but being how she was so quiet, I did not think this would be an issue. I had grabbed the scale and stepped into the enclosure … alone. Within seconds, this girl was attached to my face! She had flapped her powerful wings – from lying on her side – and launched into my face. I grabbed her legs and quickly and calmly brought her to the ground. By her grace, she stopped flapping but continued to grip my face. During sedation x-rays, it was noted that she had a fractured femur from a gunshot wound (old and healed injury). I tell you this part because while she could still grab rather well, she was weak in one of those legs. She relaxed that leg and I was able to pull her talons from my face and placed that leg on the ground – truth be told, she “gently” grabbed my arm, but this was better than my face! I laid on the ground with this girl attached to my face for 4 minutes and 30 seconds before someone came to the back. By this time, my face was throbbing, and blood was dripping down my hand, forearm, and her leg. The whole ordeal lasted 8 minutes and 45 seconds – a lifetime if you ask me! The eagle received a pedicure and I was finally free! One emergency visit, CT, painful flushing, strong antibiotics, 7 stitches, several rounds of laser treatments, 3 scars, and 3 talons in an acrylic paperweight – I have learned from my rookie mistake. I was fortunately incredibly lucky; albeit, humiliated and humbled. The silver lining – she is doing well and is soon to be released! Oh! Did I mention this unfortunate event is on video?

Do you have a favorite tip or trick for clinical avian practice that you can share with AAV members?

The buddy system is essential when dealing with birds of prey!! Do not become lax or take for granted that these animals are wild!!



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