Dr. Coleen Stice usually performs surgery on humans, but this week she had an entirely different type of patient — a bald eagle.
Stice, an Omaha plastic and reconstructive surgeon, lent her skills to help the injured bird, found this spring with a mysterious head wound.
The eagle was discovered on the ground south of Syracuse, Nebraska, in May and brought to Fontenelle Forest’s Rehabilitation Center near Elmwood, where it’s being cared for.
Raptor experts were baffled over what caused the strange mark on the bird’s head, a spot that should be covered with white feathers.
But Stice solved the mystery.
She examined the bird about a week ago at the rehabilitation center and determined that the wound was caused by a burn — possibly from hitting an electrical wire while flying. On Sunday she removed the scab during a 30-minute procedure in the surgery suite at Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium’s Center for Conservation and Research.
The zoo’s veterinarian intern anesthetized the eagle. He and Dr. Stice were assisted by zoo veterinary technicians.
Betsy Finch, rehabilitation manager at the center, said the plan is for Stice to attempt a skin graft on the eagle in a couple of weeks; healthy skin will be removed from elsewhere on the bird and attached to its head.
If the graft is successful, the bird would have feathers on its head again, which would be an essential step for it to be released into the wild. Without feathers, the bird would suffer dangerous sunburn.
Stice is out of town and was unavailable for comment.
But her husband, Bob Wells, said she is glad she could help the bird. Wells said his wife grew up in Montana and has always had a love for wildlife.
“She doesn’t like to see an animal suffer,’’ he said.
He said Stice, who is affiliated with CHI Health, learned about the ailing eagle by reading news reports on Facebook. The medical care she provided was voluntary.
Both Wells and Stice volunteer at Fontenelle Forest, and he is vice president of the Audubon Society of Omaha.
He said Stice has provided limited medical assistance to animals in the past year, but nothing as extensive as surgery. This was the first time she has ever worked on an eagle, he said.
Finch, with the rehabilitation center, previously told The World-Herald that the eagle was weak and underfed when first brought to the center this spring.
She said Tuesday that the bird is gaining weight and doing better.
“My worry is getting this bird back to health,’’ Finch said.