Sacramento Wildlife Rescuer Faces Devastating Diagnosis From Caring For Birds

Christy Berger, co-founder of Sacramento Heron and Egret Rescue, has spent the last several years as a wildlife rescuer.

Video Transcript

- Now to a devastating diagnosis. A bird rescuer learns the very thing she loves doing the most could end up killing her. Doctors saying she cannot care for birds anymore, and now the future of her bird rescue group is up in the air.

- CBS 13's Marlee Ginter joins us with the heartbreaking diagnosis and what it means for dozens of rescues, Marlee.

MARLEE GINTER: Elizabeth and Curtis, that's the main reason she wants her story told. They are in crisis mode. She needs to find care and, ultimately, homes for all of these birds she's rescued and taken in as her own.

The sounds of dozens of birds, like music to the ears for Christy Berger, these rescues have been her life.

CHRISTY BERGER: They can't be released because they're not wild birds, so somebody has to house them.

- All right, guys.

CHRISTY BERGER: So that's where I come in.

- Dinnertime.

MARLEE GINTER: But Christy can't feed them, can't pet them, or even get too close.

CHRISTY BERGER: I have to be careful in my own yard right now. I wear a mask even if I'm by myself out in my yard.

MARLEE GINTER: Christy was just diagnosed with hypersensitivity pneumonitis, also known as bird fancier's disease, inflammation in the lungs caused by inhaling allergens from bird feathers.

CHRISTY BERGER: It's pretty devastating. I mean, it definitely is breaking my heart. And it still feels completely unreal, like, how can this be happening?

MARLEE GINTER: Birds have been her life. She rescues these birds, but should she stay away from them now?

PARIMAL BHARUCHA: If I were Christy I would.

MARLEE GINTER: Dr. Parimal Bharucha specializes in pulmonary and critical care with Dignity Health. He says it's more common than many realize.

PARIMAL BHARUCHA: It is not uncommon, but not all of those patients are going to develop the symptoms or develop the disease.

CHRISTY BERGER: It was so hard to-- it was so hard to put them out here and not be able to interact with them. That's hard.

MARLEE GINTER: Now Christy needs to find homes for 40 birds, birds she rescued and cared for herself.

- And I want to be able to get these bird homes so that way we don't have to worry about her exposing herself and risking her health because she's trying to help these guys.

CHRISTY BERGER: The very thing that I love to do the most could kill me.

MARLEE GINTER: Wow, that is just heartbreaking. So Christy, right now, is looking for someone who can come care for the birds until she can find them homes or even foster homes. So we put a link to her Facebook page and a way to reach her on our website cbs13.com.