Exotic feral parrots thriving in US (move over Florida pythons) + TW's back surgery

Escaped parrots naturalized (bird hobbies)

INTRO: When Stephen Pruett-Jones, PhD, an ecologist at the University of Chicago, first came to Chicago in 1988, he stumbled on a unique piece of the city’s history: the monk parakeets of Hyde Park. The squat, bright-green birds aren’t native to Illinois, or the United States at all. The U.S. originally had two native parrot species: the Carolina parakeet and the thick-billed parrot. The Carolina parakeet is now extinct; the thick-billed parrot, a Mexican species that ranged into the southwestern states, was driven out of the U.S. In the 1950s and 60s, tens of thousands of monk parakeets were imported from South America as pets. Inevitably, many of them escaped or were released. By 1968, they were found breeding in the wild across 10 states, including a colony in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, home of the University of Chicago campus.

Pruett-Jones, who usually studies wrens and other wild birds in Australia, noticed a large group of the parakeets on his daily commute. He started sending students out to study the birds and eventually organized an annual lab project to count them. “I have never actually held a wild parrot in the United States,” he said. “But indirectly I’ve become the spokesperson for parrot research here because when I saw the monk parakeets in Chicago, I realized nobody else was working on them.”

Those monk parakeets aren’t the only parrot species thriving in the U.S. as a result of the pet trade. In a recent study, Pruett-Jones teamed up with Jennifer Uehling, a former UChicago undergraduate student now working on a PhD at Cornell University, and Jason Tallant of the University of Michigan to research data on bird sightings from 2002 to 2016. They found that there were 56 different parrot species spotted in the wild in 43 states. Of these, 25 species are now breeding in 23 different states. “Many of them were escaped pets, or their owners released them because they couldn’t train them or they made too much noise—all the reasons people let pets go,” Pruett-Jones said. “But many of these species are perfectly happy living here and they’ve established populations. Wild parrots are here to stay.” (MORE)

How Tiger Woods Won the Back Surgery Lottery (sports)

EXCERPT: Few would have predicted that Tiger Woods would be playing in the P.G.A. Championship this week. He had three failed back surgeries, starting in 2014. He had taken opioids. His astonishing career seemed over. Then he had one more operation, a spinal fusion, the most complex of all, in 2017. And last month he won the Masters, playing the way he used to. An outcome like his from fusion surgery is so rare it is “like winning the lottery,” Dr. Sohail K. Mirza, a spine surgeon at Dartmouth, said.

[...] Dr. Richard Deyo, an emeritus professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University, and his colleagues conducted a study in Oregon and found that about half of fusion patients who had the procedure on their lumbar, or lower, spine were using opioids before their operations. After their surgery, only 9 percent stopped using the drugs. And 13 percent who had not used opioids became long-term users after the surgery.

It’s hard to know what constitutes success, Dr. Deyo said. For example, one study, one of whose co-authors was Richard Guyer of the Texas Back Institute, who was widely reported to be Woods’s surgeon, reported a “clinical success rate” of 57 percent after two years. It defined clinical success as at least a 25 percent improvement in overall functioning, with no device failure, no major complications and no neurological deterioration. By another definition of success — more than 30 percent relief of pain and 30 percent improvement in function — only about half of fusion operations succeed, Dr. Mirza said.

But the operation remains wildly popular — fusion surgery is among the top five operations in this country, and the vast majority are done for deteriorated disks. Only knee and hip replacement account for more inpatient hospital stays. Medicare pays for 300,000 of these operations each year, and private insurers are thought to pay for an equivalent number, Dr. Mirza said.

Woods is reported to have had deterioration of the bottom disk of his spine, the one that attaches to his pelvic bone. Surgery consists of removing that disk and replacing it with a metal cage. The space in the cage is then packed with bone. Afterward, that segment of spine can no longer move — it is rigid. As a result, forces get transmitted to the area above and below the fusion or, in cases like Woods’s, where only the bottom disk is fused, to the disks above. Often, the disk or disks next to the fused one soon develop arthritis — as quickly as within a few years. “If you were one of Woods’s competitors, you might say, ‘I might wait a little bit,’” said Dr. Steven Atlas, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard.

Dr. Atlas said he tells patients that it is one thing for an athlete like Woods to have that operation — it may be risky but he also might get a few more years out of his playing career, which could be worth millions of dollars. But he cautions typical middle-aged patients. “Once they have that fusion, it can’t be undone,” Dr. Atlas said. “And it is likely that they will have future surgery down the road,” as a consequence of the instability fusion causes. (MORE - details)

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