Dr. Padron Helps Injured Cubs

In August and September of 2016, Dr. Padron operated on two injured bear cubs. They’re both being rehabilitated by Wildlife Center of Virginia. Below is the original news story as published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.


It’s 11:15 a.m. He cuts. A small incision is made and the surgery begins.

As usual, Bob Marley plays from a speaker in the corner. The reggae calms Dr. Alex Padron, who is trained in small animal surgery at the Richmond-area Virginia Veterinary Surgical Associates.

It is not the usual patient on his operating table. It’s a black bear cub, the second one he’s operated on in the past two months — but only the second in his career. Normally, Padron works on dogs and cats, but he said he sometimes gets the occasional “exotic” animal.

The machine monitoring the cub’s heart rate, temperature and blood pressure beeps a steady rhythm. The computer screen across the room displays the X-ray showing the bear cub’s femur fracture. This is the first of two surgeries to be performed on the 5- to 6-month-old female that day.

The bright red of the bear’s open muscles are a stark contrast to the blue sterilized surgical pads and gowns and the off-white color of the room. A small swirl of smoke can be seen as Padron and his team cauterize the surrounding blood vessels in the area of the bear’s leg they’re working on.

The team whispers medical terms to one another. Padron shifts the bear’s limb back and forth, feeling for any bones rubbing together. After about an hour, the procedure is over. They take a short break, and begin again, this time fixing the cub’s elbow fracture.

“I was excited, but once you’re getting ready to start the surgery, it’s like any other surgery. So you have a plan set in mind, and you know your anatomy, and you know exactly what you’re going to do,” Padron said. “You just focus on what you have to do.”

In total, the cub was in surgery for more than four hours, and she now has six pins in her elbow, a pin running down the center of her femur and a bone plate with eight screws in her femur. The cub was found on the side of a road in Rockingham County after being hit by a car Sept. 4.

The impact fractured her femur and her elbow on her left side, requiring repairs to the growth plate — a particularly complicated procedure.

Padron operated on the other female cub about six weeks ago. He placed six pins in her elbow after she was hit by a car July 27 near Crozet. That crash fractured the cub’s elbow and killed her mother.

“I knew it was going to be a challenge,” Padron said of the surgeries. “So with that you’re a little nervous because you want everything to work out well. But we’re definitely excited, and I’m glad I have the opportunity to help out some of the local wildlife.”

Both bear cubs are now being rehabilitated at The Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro, where staff members hope the bears eventually will be released back into the wild. The cub that was hit in July is now being moved to a bigger half-acre enclosure, where she can play with other bear cubs, swim in a pool, swing in a hammock or climb trees, said Dr. Ernesto Dominguez, a veterinary intern.

The bear cub Padron operated on Sept. 8 is doing well and using her limbs normally, so the chances for releasing her into the wild are high, Dominguez said. However, there’s still the possibility her forelimb won’t grow properly because of the repairs to the growth plate. It’s possible, Dominguez said, that her front limb will be shorter than the rest, but they won’t know if it’s growing properly for an additional eight to 10 weeks.

She will be moved soon to an enclosure with a few other cubs, allowing her to act like a normal black bear again. They keep the cubs together because black bears are social creatures and learn how to behave normally when they’re all together, Dominguez said. If they are released to the wild, they are all let go at the same time.

The Wildlife Center has about a dozen bears now and has admitted close to 25 this year, which is more than the roughly 20 bears the center, which opened in 1982, receives each year.

The rehabilitation process for the bears includes monitoring them daily to make sure they’re behaving normally and providing them with foods they’ll find in the wild, such as berries, vegetables and fish. Occasionally, if a bear’s injuries are too serious or it will be in chronic pain after surgical repairs, the wildlife center will euthanize it.

The surgery on the first cub cost the Wildlife Center about $1,000, and the surgery on the second cub was $1,500 to $2,000. Normally, the surgeries would have cost three or four times more, Dominguez said. But the Wildlife Center had to pay only for the cost of the materials for the surgery. Padron donated his time and skills after the center contacted Virginia Veterinary Surgical Associates.

“For us it’s important to care about wildlife,” Dominguez said. “They’re an important part of our life, our planet and our ecosystem. Every time these guys come into our center they give us information about what our ecosystem is doing and their interactions with human invasion.”

“It’s not just about the injuries,” he said. “Every time we share these stories with the public and people, they can understand why it’s important to take care of wildlife — not just in the U.S., but also around the world.”

Twitter: @DenverPratt