A Better Life for Bubbles
Posted May 22, 2018
Dr. Arturo Otamendi holds Bubbles before her operation.
With a charming personality, Bubbles—a 3-month-old black, brown,
and white Shih Tzu—lives up to her name.
But it wasn’t her sparkling disposition that led to the moniker;
Bubbles received her name because she was born with
meningoencephalocele—a rare, abnormal sac of fluid, brain tissue,
and meninges (the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord)
that protrudes from the top of her head.
When Darci Davenport, the co-owner of peacelovedogs/PLD Dog
Rescue Project in Missouri City, learned from a friend that the
5-week-old puppy was dropped off at a Montgomery County animal
shelter, Davenport, whose rescue is known for taking in high-risk
animals, went to visit Bubbles and fell in love.
“She has so much spunk,” Davenport said. “She’s just a regular
puppy; she has no idea there is anything wrong with her. Once she
bit my nose, it was over with.”
Davenport had Bubbles examined by a veterinarian in Houston, and
the puppy was referred to the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical
Teaching Hospital (VMTH), in the College of Veterinary Medicine
& Biomedical Sciences (CVM), where she was cared for by a team
from the Small Animal Hospital’s neurology service, including Dr.
Beth Boudreau, third-year neurology resident Dr. Arturo Otamendi,
and first-year neurology resident Dr. Maya Krasnow.
“Meningoencephalocele can happen either because of congenital
abnormalities—the skull just didn’t form properly—or sometimes
toxins or nutritional deficiencies can cause that in utero, as
well; sometimes it can be acquired because of trauma,” Otamendi
said. “In Bubbles’s case, it was congenital; she’s had it since she
was born. This happens actually very rarely in dogs and cats, more
commonly in people.”
The abnormality can cause seizures, and, if at any point the
“bubble” ruptured, the puppy could suffer from meningitis,
encephalitis, bleeding, and even death.
“We were worried about the pouch covering the outside
potentially getting injured, because she’s a puppy and she’s pretty
active,” Krasnow said. “She wants to be able to play with other
dogs, but if the bubble were to become damaged, we would worry
about her potentially getting encephalitis. Additionally, there is
an opening in her skull—there’s nothing really there covering her
brain—so we were worried about her experiencing trauma to her
brain, as well.”
Otamendi, Krasnow, and other Texas A&M surgeons explored
their treatment options and decided surgery was the best approach.
As they waited for the 2- to 3-pound puppy to get a little bigger
in order to perform the surgery, they explored various surgical
treatments, including working with a pharmaceutical/bioengineering
company to produce a bio-compatible implant that could be placed
over the defect in her skull.
A couple of weeks later, the doctors were presented a second
option—one that involved technology being used by a surgeon in
another of the hospital’s services; Dr. Brian Saunders, an
associate professor of orthopedics, works in his laboratory with a
memory foam implant that will become malleable at warmer
temperatures and then hardens as it cools.
“We called him and asked if he knew anyone who did 3-D printing,
which was our initial idea, and he volunteered that he and a
chemist he works with might have something that could interest us,”
With a surgical plan now in place, the doctors were ready to
remove the meningoencephalocele from the top of Bubbles’s skull and
implant the centimeter-and-a-half circle made from Saunders’s
memory foam technology that would protect her brain. The
two-and-a-half-hour surgery went off without a hitch.
“I think the biggest challenge was that we didn’t know quite
what to expect during surgery; it’s not something that many of us
have done before, and we weren’t sure what kind of complications we
would run into,” Krasnow said. “But everything went extremely well.
Our memory foam from Dr. Saunders’s lab actually fit in very well,
and we didn’t have any problems. She woke right away after surgery
and was eating, so we were really happy.”
The doctors emphasized the huge team effort that went into the
surgery, including veterinary specialists from the Small Animal
Hospital’s neurology, orthopedic, surgery, anesthesia, and
radiology services, as well as through the hospital’s fundraising
mechanisms, which helped offset the cost of Bubbles’s surgery.
“We were able to combine funds for the surgery through the
Laughing Labs, Robbie Vanderpool Save the Animals, and Starr Funds
accounts,” Otamendi said. “We definitely thank everybody at Texas
A&M and the Texas A&M Foundation for helping to provide
these funds so we could perform the surgery that will allow Bubbles
to hopefully live a better life.”
Theresa Cline and Darci Davenport play with Bubbles.
Through her rescue project, Davenport had raised some money
before Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area, but afterward,
because there were so many others in need, Davenport said she felt
guilty about asking for more for one dog when so many other people
and animals were in need.
“She’s just so cute; she’s so sweet and has such a will to live
that I want to do whatever I can to get her better,” Davenport
said. “She has such a spunk and so much will to live that how do
you deny that a puppyhood?”
Davenport said it means a lot to her that Texas A&M worked
to help financially.
“To me, this is the most amazing university ever; it’s the best
of the best. We don’t hesitate, any time we have something that’s
complicated, to just drop everything and drive the two-and-a-half
hours to Texas A&M, because you’re not going to get any better
care,” Davenport said. “They are so caring, and for them to help
the way they have and go out of their way to accommodate Bubbles
and my rescue is…I’m just so grateful.”
Throughout this process, Davenport worked to find a good home
for Bubbles to return to after her surgery. She found that in
Houston resident Theresa Cline, who learned about Bubbles through a
“I lost my dog to breast cancer three months before I saw
Bubbles, and I was just so distraught; I didn’t know if I was going
to have another dog anytime soon,” Cline said. “When I saw Bubbles,
it was about at that three-month mark (following her dog’s death)
and Bubbles was almost 3 months old; as soon as I saw her, I was
like, ‘That’s my dog!’ I just kind of felt like my dog’s soul was
in this dog; she just kept pulling me in. I knew I was done, that
this was my dog.”
While Bubbles no longer has the meningoencephalocele that earned
her her name, she does have a sister with whom she can play now
that she’s fully recovered and officially a “normal” puppy. As she
waited for Bubbles, Cline adopted Mai—a puppy she said looks so
similar to Bubbles that they could have come from the same
litter—so that Bubbles wouldn’t be alone.
For Davenport, knowing that she found a home for her little
“Unicorn Puppy”—a puppy that, under normal circumstances, may not
have survived to make it to a shelter, much less through surgery—is
“Everybody said, ‘You’re not going to be able to let her go,’”
Davenport said. “But this is what I like—to be able to send a dog
home with someone like Theresa; that’s my job.”
For more information about the Texas A&M College of
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our
website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of CVM Today magazine.
Contact Information: Megan Palsa, Executive
Director of Communications, Media & Public Relations, Texas
A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; email@example.com;
979-862-4216; 979-421-3121 (cell)
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