Doctors Perform First Successful Heart Bypass at the College of Veterinary Medicine
October 31, 2001
College Station - In a collaborative effort, veterinarians and
human health professionals worked together to perform the first
successful heart bypass surgery at the College of Veterinary
Medicine, Texas A&M University. On Saturday, October 20, Dr.
Theresa W. Fossum, Professor of Surgery and Endowed Chair and Dr.
David Nelson, Clinical Assistant Professor from the College of
Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Mark Felger, a cardiovascular surgeon with
Cardiothoracic and Vascular Associates of Austin, Texas and their
surgical team performed surgery on Luke, a two-and-a-half year-old
Golden Retriever from, San Antonio, Texas.
"Luke had a condition known as sub-aorta stenosis, which is one
of the most common congenital heart defects," said Dr. Sonya
Gordon, a Veterinary Cardiologist at the college who has overseen
Luke's treatment since he was a puppy. "Usually, this condition
causes sudden death before the patient turns three years of age.
Over the past few months, Luke has lost weight and we knew that we
were running out of time."
The 92-minute heart procedure included surgical entry through
the right ventricle, through the septum into the left ventricle to
remove the obstruction. "We took out a large window of tissue in
the septum which relieved some of the pressure and allowed us to
see better into the left ventricle. The window in the thickened
septum was repaired with a thin patch made from Luke's own
While a similar procedure has been performed on children, this
approach was considered aggressive treatment in animals. "Colorado
State has done a series of these cases using a different approach
which hasn't been determined to change the long term survival of
the patient," said Gordon.
In measuring the speed of blood flowing through Luke's heart
doctors saw a vast improvement in his condition. The blood flow
went from eight meters per second before surgery to 3.3 meters per
second after surgery. "This is a tremendous improvement. The
narrower the opening, the faster the blood flows and the harder the
heart has to work," added Gordon.
What is not known is how much damage was done to Luke's heart
over the past two-and-a-half years and whether that damage is
reversible. "We will see Luke in a month, and then again in three
months. If everything goes as hoped, he will have annual checkups
and as a result of the bypass surgery, live to a ripe old age,"
Due to the life-threatening nature of the condition, plans were
made to attempt a surgical correction of the problem. However, a
year ago when the plans were first discussed, there weren't a lot
The Michael E. DeBakey Institute for Comparative Cardiovascular
Science and Biomedical Devices was established at the College of
Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University in 1999 to
facilitate such procedures. However, bringing the necessary
expertise and equipment together takes time. "We are still in the
process of building a heart surgery program so that we can perform
bypass procedures on pets and other animals," said Fossum. "We are
fortunate to have an outstanding team of surgeons, cardiovascular
perfusionists, anesthetists, and a cardiothoracic criticalist on
staff to help us build the heart surgery program."
The program is in need of funding to purchase a dedicated
ultrasound machine and other equipment necessary for sophisticated
heart procedures. "Heart disease, including the need for valve
replacement or repair, is common in dogs," said Fossum. "It is
expensive to set up a program like this and to make these
procedures available." Many people, like Cindy Norris, Luke's
owner, love their animal and desire to seek advanced medical
attention for their pet, but can't afford the tremendous cost of
"When Luke was a puppy I took him to the veterinarian and she
didn't like what she heard. The results of that examination were
devastating. Over time, Luke's condition kept getting worse. When
he was four months old, I prayed for a miracle and this successful
procedure is my answer," said Norris.
Luke was discharged on Friday, October 26th, after
veterinarians and technicians working on his case presented him and
owner Norris with a cake and a Texas A&M University sweatshirt
signed by members of the surgical team.
Established in 1916, the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas
A&M University is one of the world's leading institutions in
animal health care and research.
Angela G. Clendenin
Director, Communications & Public Relations
Ofc - (979) 862-2675
Cell - (979) 739-5718
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