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'Could Kill Me': Sacramento Wildlife Rescuer Faces Devastating Diagnosis From Caring For Birds

CITRUS HEIGHTS (CBS13) - Christy Berger, co-founder of Sacramento Heron and Egret Rescue, has spent the last several years as a wildlife rescuer. The sounds of dozens of birds around her is like music to her ears. She rescued each and every one of them, took them in and cared for them as her own. But now she can no longer care for them – her health depends on it.

"I have to be careful in my own yard right now. I wear a mask even if I'm by myself outside in my yard," Berger told CBS13 in Sacramento.

She started having breathing problems in January, making it difficult to simply walk. She was just diagnosed with Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis, also known as Bird Fancier's Disease. It's an inflammation in the lungs caused by inhaling allergens from bird feathers.

"It's creating a situation where it will create scar tissue and if I continue to work with these birds, I will need a lung transplant down the road," said Berger.  "It's pretty devastating. It definitely is breaking my heart. It feels really unreal, like how could this be happening?"

Dr. Parimal Bharucha specializes in pulmonary and critical care with Dignity Health. He says considering Berger's diagnosis, it's best she stay away from the birds. He says the condition is actually more common than many realize.

"It is not uncommon, but not all of the patients are going to develop the symptoms or develop the disease," said Dr. Bharucha.

"It was so hard to put them out here and not be able to interact. I mean that's hard," said Berger.

Now Berger needs to find homes for 40 birds she rescued and cared for herself. Some of them even became her own pets.

"It was very overwhelming to think about what was I going to do with these 40 birds," said Berger. "There are really no resources for these guys. Shelters are set up for mammals, dogs and cats and maybe some of the littles. They're not set up for birds at all."

"I want to be able to get these birds 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," said Brianna Abeyta, Co-Founder Sacramento Heron and Egret Rescue.

"The very thing that I love to do the most could kill me," said Berger.

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