Falcon couldn't see. Now it flies with better eyes. Vet George Messenger and his wife Vet tech Shaela Messenger prepare to put Banner under anesthesiology before surgery (Concord Monitor)
Falcon couldn't see. Now it flies with better eyes.

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With a huff, and a puff, and a turn of her head to the side, Banner the lanner falcon announced Monday afternoon that yes, she had made it through her surgery just fine, thank you. Would everyone please stop staring at her now?

Banner belongs to Jim and Nancy Cowan at the New Hampshire School of Falconry in Deering. She is the first falcon in the world to have cataract surgery. Shes had a cataract in each of her eyes for almost two years, and without her sight, she hasnt been able to hunt or even fly.

Monday, a team of veterinarians and veterinary technicians carefully drugged her. Then they cut into her cornea, removed the cloudy protein and implanted a uniquely designed artificial lens. Finally, they sewed her cornea shut again.

It amazes me how strong she is, Nancy Cowan said as she watched Banners clear dark eyes scan the crowded hallway. Lanners have a reputation as quiet birds, and I think it works for her, that temperament, that shes a bit sweeter than other falcons.

Banners ground-breaking surgery was originally scheduled for February. It was postponed several times as the team worked to perfect the shape and size of the artificial lens. They had to battle health problems of their own as well. George Messenger of Fisherville Animal Hospital, who supervised the anesthesia, underwent heart surgery this summer. Ruth Marrion, a Massachusetts-based veterinary ophthalmologist, performed the surgery while seated. She broke her leg last month.

Seven people hovered over Banner in the operating room. Dozens more in Montreal, California, Ohio, Germany and Abu Dhabi were involved in designing the artificial lenses. They had to match precise measurements.

I-Med, a Canadian ophthalmology supply manufacturer, donated the lenses. They are about 6 millimeters wide. Capital Area Veterinary Emergency Services in Concord donated the operating room and supplies. Messenger and Marrion both donated their time preparing for the main event.

A lens has two parts. One is a thin covering called the capsule, which is like a baggie. Then there's the contents, which are normally clear like a raw egg white. The dense contents help the eye focus light and draw crisp images to the optic nerve.

A lens with a cataract is like a baggie filled with cooked egg white. It lets only limited light through to the nerve.

Marrion cut a tiny hole through the baggie and vacuumed out the opaque contents. Then, she folded the flexible artificial lens, slipped it through the small hole and placed it in the baggie. It should hold it in place as if it were spring-loaded.

The hourlong surgery went smoothly and the vets and technicians chatted as each step went exactly according to plan.

But Messenger wasnt ready to celebrate until after the very last step. That was to remove the breathing tube in Banners throat. The tube allowed them to pump anesthesia to her. The process is crucially important and incredibly delicate, he said.

Its called last stitch syndrome. Youre suturing someone up and on that last stitch, it could all go wrong, he said.

But a few minutes later, Shaela Messenger, the veterinary technician, calmly whispered to George Messenger. The bird wasnt waking up, and the two walked silently to the incubator. In the dark heated cage, Banner could stay warm without being held, and she might be more likely to wake up, they said.

Cowan pulled on her falconers glove and shifted her weight impatiently. Banner, still wrapped in the towel, opened her feathered eyelids halfway and waggled her head side to side. Then, she stood, wobbling a little, puffed out her chest and stretched her wings. They filled the cage.

Within minutes, Cowan reached into the incubator and loaded Banner onto the glove.

Theyll have to give her anti-inflammatory eye drops for a few weeks. And make sure her eyelids dont become too irritated by the sutures in her corneas. The Cowans both cried with relief at the first sign Banner had survived the surgery.

When we first started looking for help, we heard a lot of anecdotal, well, it cant be done, Jim Cowan said.

As Nancy Cowan held the bird on her glove, Jim Cowan shook a leather tassel a few feet away. He smiled gleefully when Banner turned toward it.

You can see something all right, he said. You can see something.

Critical thinking challenge: What did Dr. Messenger mean by Last Stitch Syndrome? Could it apply to any process other than surgery? If so, what?

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  • R.A.Micheal
    10/03/2014 - 08:41 a.m.

    Last Stitch Syndrome is like even if its the last thing something can go wrong even though the other things they were doing went alright. It could happen in other surgeries too like heart surgery or any other medical operation.

  • kr2001blue
    10/03/2014 - 08:44 a.m.

    Dr. messenger meant that even on the last stitch anything can go wrong. yes it can apply to any process. no matter what you are doing something can go wrong. even though you have it all planned out something unexpected may happen.

  • VanessaC-3
    10/03/2014 - 09:26 a.m.

    Since the falcon couldn't see with its horrible eyesight it was dreadful for the people that had her and terrible for the falcon to itself to not see at all. Although that it couldn't even hunt or fly. Until then when the falcons owners took her to the veterinarians hospital they started to go and do the surgery right away in February. Then after doing the surgery the falcons eye was finally able to see and the surgery went well that she was able to go back home and being able to fly and hunt like a falcon just like it was back to normal.

  • 9cldavis
    10/03/2014 - 09:58 a.m.

    Last stitch syndrome is when you are so close to being done but you realize that one mistake and things could go terribly wrong. This could apply to everything you do. For example, if you are playing chess, if you mess up once, then you lose.

  • 9lvallejo
    10/03/2014 - 10:05 a.m.

    I think the messenger means by Last stitch that could apply that they are only going to preform one more surgery or something to help the bird survive the wild that was good that she survived the surgery at the end.

  • 9enrodriguez
    10/03/2014 - 10:09 a.m.

    It means that on the last stitch if it's not done right it can all go wrong. It might apply to someone who has to use oxygen.

  • 9zawald
    10/03/2014 - 10:09 a.m.

    Last Stitch Syndrome is where you are sewing something together like a organ and the last stitch can turn out to be wrong and something bad could happen to the patient. Well if you think about it when you are sewing like a quilt and you mess up the last stitch then you would have to start over again. But that Last Stitch Syndrome is only used for surgery because it would be more safe to have a professional then just a random person. But it is very serious in times like this.

  • 9ldcovington
    10/03/2014 - 10:11 a.m.

    Dr. Messenger meant that everything could go wrong while putting the last stitch in. It could also apply to sports. A few days before a big game, you could be severely injured.

  • Kaylab-5
    10/03/2014 - 10:24 a.m.

    This article is about a Falcon named Banner who had very poor eyesight. She was in need of surgery, and she got it. Banner was the first Falcon to go through a catarac surgery and survive. The doctors gave the Falcon anesthesia and quickly began the operation. The doctors had to be very persice with the size of the fake lens, yet it all worked out. The surgery was a success and Banner was capable to see again. I learned that there are two lenses is the eye a capsule and a catarac. This is a very interesting story and I love seeinh animal get healthier.

  • sarahjs
    10/03/2014 - 10:26 a.m.

    I loved how vet George messenger and his wife vet tech shaela messenger did the surgery and Banner the falcon was able to see again. Good job not giving up when people were saying that the surgery couldn't be done, but you guys proved them wrong. You inspired me to not give up even when people say that you can't do something.

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