Hospice patient watches bald eagle’s release into wild

Watson the bald eagle was released Jan. 8.

Ruth Payton, 82, loves birds and has always wished to see a bald eagle. Payton, a hospice patient with terminal hemolytic anemia, had her dream fulfilled earlier this month with the help of Randi Petre, a social worker at Hospice Compassus, and the Raptor Rehabilitation Project at MU.

“I learned about her wish when she told her nurse, Martha, that she always wanted to see a bald eagle in person,” Petre said. “Then, her nurse mentioned to me, you know, just in passing how Ruth had this dream to see a bald eagle. So, in sort of a roundabout way, I brought it up with Ruth to confirm that she really did want to see a bald eagle.”

From there, Petre got on the internet to see if there was any way she could help Payton.

“I got in contact with Tracey Brown who put me in touch with the Raptor Rehabilitation Project at the University of Missouri, and I told them Ruth's story,” Petre said. “They were really helpful and told me they had a bird, but they were not sure if he would be ready in time. They were great, though, because they kept me informed and really got the ball rolling.”

Raptor Rehabilitation Project President Elizabeth Groth said the bird’s name was Watson, and he came to the project with lead poisoning.

“We got a call about Watson from a conservation agent in the Moberly area,” Groth said. “He had lead poising. We see lead poisoning a lot in the birds that we get. It is most commonly due to contaminated fish and prey.”

With Watson in the rehabilitation’s care, they worked tirelessly to get him ready in time for Payton to see him fly.

“To treat Watson, we use medication injection, and it is just a matter of putting a little time into letting him recover,” Groth said. “We also make sure that his intestinal tact is working well. We had to make it happen (for Payton). We had an eagle who was going to recover. It was only a matter of trying to make sure it happens in time (for her to see him).”

In early January, Petre received an email from the Raptor Rehabilitation Project informing her Watson was ready to be released Jan. 8.

“Up until this point, I had not told Ruth about all this, and then I got to tell her four days before he was released that she was going to see a bald eagle,” Petre said. “She was so excited, and her whole family was so excited. They even got her a bald eagle statue to put on her desk. They couldn’t believe that someone would do this for them.”

On the day Watson was released back into the wild, Petre went with Payton and her family to watch and was amazed by the lengths Raptor Rehabilitation went to make it a memorable experience.

“The (Raptor Rehabilitation Project) let people get really close to the (eagle) as he was being released so that people could really see him,” Petre said. “The cool part was they actually rigged the cage so Ruth could open it. At first he didn’t want to come out. Then he shot out of the cage and circled the crowd.”

Once Watson was released, Payton’s family told Petre that another elderly person thanked Payton for being brave enough telling others her dream.

“She thanked her for opening up about her dream and being brave enough to talk to the press,” Petre said. “It was also this woman’s dream to see a bald eagle, and since Ruth opened up, she was also able to have her dream come true, too.”

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