By Kirstin Grace-Simons (Madigan Army Medical Center)October 30, 2018
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Two soft gray cygnets, also known as young swans, clumsily made their way from their traveling crate to the verdant inner pond of Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on Oct. 24 to take their place as the latest in a succession of mated pairs that stretches back to 1993.
A swan called Madi, named for Madigan, and Lewi, for Fort Lewis, have graced the Madigan Pond for so long, and with such appreciation, that they are nothing short of Madigan's mascots to hope and healing.
"I've talked to patients walking through the hallways that are looking for the swans just to be able to gain some resiliency after getting some bad news. The entire Madigan family, both patients and staff, look to the swans for that comfort and well-being," said Col. Suzie Scott, Madigan's deputy commanding officer, who was acting commander when the new pair joined Team Madigan on Oct. 24.
The pair's arrival was witnessed by a small throng of staff, patients and even a local television news team.
The veterinary team brought the swans into the inner pond between the hospital's two breezeways where they will be safely enclosed until they become acclimated to their new surroundings. There, Maj. (Dr.) Sara Hegge, Madigan's chief veterinarian, informed Scott that the swans may be stressed, as it took a day and a half to make the journey from their birthplace in Utah. Still, she noted, "they look healthy."
From that aviary in Utah that has been family-owned and operated for generations comes the newest pair. Continuing the tradition of being called Madi and Lewi, this pair was born in the spring and still sport the gray feathers of youth. By their first birthday, they will be brilliant white and full grown.
The new Lewi was the first to emerge from the confines of the pair's traveling crate. Madi was a bit hesitant to leave its comfort.
Lead Animal Health Technician Juan Tercero pulled her out and, after a chest plant in the soft grass, she quickly joined her mate in exploring their lush new home.
Though decidedly difficult to tell apart, the two do have some distinct aspects.
"Lewi is the larger swan. He has a boxier and darker top of head. Madi is smaller, has a lighter patch on her front neck, and smaller head," detailed Hegge.
Once they lose their brownish-gray cygnet feathers and turn all white, some of these differences will vanish and they may become as hard to tell apart as the last Madi and Lewi.
The last pair was not, like this new one, a lifelong matched couple. Madi, at six years older than the last Lewi, had already had a mate previously. She was, therefore, quite hesitant to accept the last Lewi, who was her original mate's replacement when he died.
Mute swans mate for life. When the Lewi previous to this last one passed away, it took Madi a full year to accept the presence of a new partner.
Madigan's new, young pair takes up the line of succession as the last Madi passed away on Oct. 8.
Though the last Madi developed pneumonia and a fungal infection last spring, she recovered nicely. Yet, at 18 years, she was a senior swan. On Oct. 8, she laid down to sleep and did not awaken. An examination of her when she was found showed no signs of illness and her death was deemed due to natural causes.
On Oct. 19, a small ceremony at the pond allowed the command team, Col. Thomas Bundt and then Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Bivins, to commit Madi's ashes to the aquatic home she graced for so many years.
The last Madi proved how difficult it is to re-mate an adult swan with the slow acceptance of the last Lewi. The last Lewi himself was an aging swan at 12 years old. Attempting to pair an older male swan with a new female, is fraught with peril as it can turn violent.
With both Lewi's age and gender in mind, Hegge recommended that a new pair be sought. The veterinary staff contacted the farm that has historically supplied Madigan's swans and found the perfect solution.
In addition to selecting a new pair for Madigan, "they also would be happy to take Lewi back to their farm where he was born, where they would care for him for the rest of his life," she said.
Mute swans are an invasive species in the Pacific Northwest and not allowed to be kept as pets in Washington. Madigan has an exception as Madi and Lewi are cared for by a veterinarian who ensures their flight feathers are clipped and, while the swans go through the ritual of mating, they do not reproduce.
As for the last Lewi, he's already home.
After Bundt made his way to the pond to say farewell to Lewi on Oct. 23, Lewi commenced his journey back to the farm where he was born. The farm reported to Hegge that he made it safe and sound the day after the new pair was introduced to Madigan's Pond. She expects to receive a few photos of him soon.
The new pair will be known as Madi and Lewi, just as all the others have been, not to strip them of individual identities, but to bind them inextricably to their home and Madigan family. As Madi and Lewi, they are instantly accepted as the special healers of Madigan.
They have already received an outpouring of love on social media, and they have been featured on the local television news. Their most important, and lifelong, jobs of providing comfort for patients, staff and visitors have just begun.
*Editor's Note: Madigan's command sergeant major has changed responsibility from Bivins since the events noted herein; he is, therefore, noted as "outgoing" in the captions to accompanying photographs.