A suddenly-ill Bubba was saved by the vets of "Dr. K's Exotic Animal ER."
Ormond Beach residents Joan Wheeler and Jack Kump first met Bubba shortly after he hatched twenty years ago, but it was not love at first sight.
The bird-loving couple had approached a breeder to inquire about hyacinth macaws, a breed that was meant to be a compromise since both had to give up their birds when they married. However, the breeder redirected them and informed them he had three green-winged macaws, telling them that it was a friendly breed that does well alone and makes for a good pet.
“And he pulls open this drawer and there are these ugly little creatures in there," Wheeler said.
Bubba was tiny then, without feathers and the ability to pick his head up. He was also $6,500 cheaper, which after doing research on the breed, convinced Wheeler and Kump that he would be the perfect addition to their family.
Bubba's full name is Beelzebub.
“In the hierarchy of the underworld, Beelzebub was the lord of all flying things," Kump said. "Lord of the flies.”
For six months, they sat and held him until Bubba was able to come home with them. They even brought back the eggshell he hatched from. The pair keeps it in a small glass case.
A celebrity of his own rank in Flagler Beach, Bubba will soon grace the screens of millions of TV viewers as he appears on National Geographic's "Dr. K's Exotic Animal ER" at 9 p.m., Sunday, May 20.
In February of 2017, Kump, a retired EMT, and Wheeler, a pre-K teacher at Pathways Elementary, noticed Bubba was acting strangely. He wasn't communicating with them and instead was curled up in himself with his head behind his back. He was also missing feathers on his belly.
“He started picking those feathers three years ago, for no reason," Kump said. "And we didn’t pay attention to it at the time.”
The couple thought Bubba was nervous or even bored, but when they noticed his behavior change, they took him to a local vet, who gave Bubba antibiotics for an infection. He was okay for a little while, but became sick again in October.
Again, Kump and Wheeler took him to the vet, who gave Bubba shots and antibiotics one more time. But when they got home, they noticed Bubba had a small sac on his belly. X-rays would later show Bubba had an unknown mass.
The vet told them it was probably cancer and that Bubba should be euthanized. Wheeler's response was to cry. Kump decided to get a second opinion.
“We get them for ourselves," Kump said. "Let’s get them for the bird.”
After a night of Bubba's cries keeping Kump awake and worried, the couple took him to the Broward Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital in Deerfield. There, Dr. Lauren Thielen and Dr. Susan Kelleher, stars of "Dr. K's Exotic Animal ER," would save Bubba's life.
When he was first taken to the vet in February of 2017, Bubba was diagnosed as being morbidly obese. When arrived to the animal hospital in October of 2017, he was dehydrated, anorexic and weighed about 1.5 pounds, Wheeler said.
He was given fluids for a few days and later underwent a scope that showed the unknown mass in his belly. Wheeler said the last vet had told the couple that surgeries like the one Bubba would require aren't often done because the organs fall out and vets have to "stuff everything back in."
In contrast, the doctors of the show were excited. Kump said Thielen advised that the surgery could turn out poorly, but that she was hopeful.
“That’s the attitude that you want to hear," Kump said.
The day of the surgery, Kump and Wheeler spent hours with Bubba just in case he didn't make it. One hour later, as they were asking staff how the surgery had gone, Wheeler heard Bubba's call from the waiting room.
“You cannot fake that," Wheeler said. "I knew his voice.”
“To add insult to injury, first you’re carved like a Christmas turkey, and then you get a transfusion of the worst possible kind."
Jack Kump, Ormond Beach resident
Bubba did not have a cancerous tumor. It was his distended intestine which had turned into a hernia. A loop of his intestine had pushed through the hernia and become trapped, stopping the natural flow of his bodily functions.
“It was a plumbing problem, basically," Kump said.
The vets of "Dr. K's Exotic Animal ER" didn't stop at the surgery though. To make sure Bubba's intestinal bacteria repopulated correctly, they also gave him a macaw poop enema — which Kump said was "going above and beyond the call of duty."
“To add insult to injury, first you’re carved like a Christmas turkey, and then you get a transfusion of the worst possible kind," Kump said.
Kump and Wheeler don't want to imagine how they would have felt if they had euthanized Bubba per their local vet's suggestion, only to later find out Bubba's illness was correctable. Bubba is back to being his energetic self, going on bike rides on Wheeler's shoulder and taking trips with his parents to Flagler Beach.
Wheeler said green-winged macaws can live anywhere from 60-100 years.
“You’re not giving up at 20," Wheeler said.