Texas A&M Cardiology Team Performs Lifesaving Surgery For Puppy

Story by Rachel Knight, VMBS Communications

Apollonia in a white shirt and maroon bandana with the VMTH logo

Irene Gamboa has loved dogs for as long as she can remember, so much so that her social media friends are almost exclusively dogs and puppies.

Yet she didn’t have a dog of her own until fate intervened.

What started as a Target run to visit her son who works at the big-box store in Pearland ended with the adoption of a puppy small enough to fit in the palm of Gamboa’s hand—she rescued the pup after witnessing its abandonment in the parking lot.

“Sitting in my car, I saw a lady who had a little puppy,” Gamboa explained. “She put the puppy under a tree in a planter in the parking lot. I thought she was just letting the dog go to the bathroom, but then I saw her walking away. I got out of my car and went to grab the puppy, because if the little puppy would’ve jumped out of the planter, a car would’ve hit it.”

Gamboa confronted the lady who confirmed her intention was to leave it there for someone else to take home. After Gamboa expressed disbelief and asked why, the lady simply said, “That puppy is defective” and walked away.

With a PetSmart nearby, Gamboa walked into the store and made an appointment for her new puppy, whom Gamboa named Apollonia after a character in her favorite movie, “The Godfather.”

A Journey Begins

Apollonia’s healthcare journey began with the appointment Gamboa made the day she saved the energetic miniature poodle, Chihuahua, and lhasa apso mix from the Target parking lot.

At that appointment, the veterinarian told Gamboa that Apollonia had a heart murmur.

“I asked, ‘OK, what is that? Can we give her medicine? What can we do to help her feel better?’ and Dr. Perez said, ‘No, you have to take her to a cardiologist. It sounds like she has a grade four heart murmur,’” Gamboa recalled, thinking back to Apollonia’s first veterinary visit.

The veterinarian advised Gamboa to keep Apollonia calm and still as much as possible, a tough ask for a playful, energetic puppy. The veterinarian also recommended several cardiologists in the Houston area.

Gamboa left the appointment and relayed the experience to her daughter, sharing her worries about her puppy’s life; despite her concerns about paying for Apollonia’s future healthcare, she followed Perez’s advice and made an appointment with one of the three cardiologists she located.

The cardiologist confirmed Apollonia’s heart murmur, diagnosed her with a congenital heart defect called a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), and determined her need for heart surgery. The doctor also expressed concerns about performing the surgery.

“While she needed surgery right away, if she has the surgery, she might not make it through,” Gamboa recalled the cardiologist saying. “Just like any surgery, there’s always a chance that anything, any complication, can happen—it might be too late; her heart might give up.”

The cardiologist also advised Gamboa to start saving for what she anticipated would be a $7,000 surgery—if Gamboa could find a surgeon willing to perform it.

A Glimmer Of Hope

Apollonia the puppy wearing a maroon bandana, tilting her head

The next part of Apollonia’s health journey began with another checkup at PetSmart with Perez, who encouraged Gamboa to take Apollonia to the Texas A&M Small Animal Teaching Hospital (SATH).

Gamboa made an appointment with the SATH but canceled out of concern for the cost of the visit. However, after Perez encouraged her to call back and inquire about payment plans, Gamboa followed the advice and took the earliest appointment available.

She documented their journey from Pearland to Bryan-College Station for Apollonia’s initial appointment on TikTok, asking for well wishes and prayers for good news.

At Texas A&M, Dr. Sonya Wesselowski, an assistant professor of cardiology, determined that Apollonia was a good candidate for the surgery.

“Without PDA closure, dogs often go on to develop congestive heart failure within the first year or so of life,” Wesselowski explained.

PDA closure surgery is both lifesaving and expensive.

However, thanks to generous donations to the SARGE and The Capper and Chris Save the Animals Fund in the SATH, the surgical team was able to offer crucial financial assistance for Apollonia’s surgery.

“We performed a minimally invasive interventional procedure to place a special device called an ACDO (a self-expanding device made from a Nitinol wire mesh) inside of Apollonia’s PDA to close it,” Wesselowski explained. “The whole cardiac procedure was performed using a blood vessel in Apollonia’s hind leg, which required only a small incision in her groin.

“Her procedure was a success and Apollonia now has a very good long-term prognosis!” she continued.

Throughout Apollonia’s surgery and post-operative stay at the SATH, her cardiology team called Gamboa with updates.

“I’m so grateful to Dr. Elizabeth Malcolm, a cardiology resident. She gave me so much hope. I felt in my heart Apollonia is in the right hospital with the right doctors who truly love animals,” Gamboa shared. “They will do their best to save everyone’s fur baby. Niki Turner, a fourth-year veterinary student, was amazing. She kept me updated while my fur baby was there. Apollonia and I are truly blessed and thankful to the Texas A&M Small Animal Teaching Hospital.”

About a month has passed since Apollonia’s surgery, and Gamboa said Apollonia is doing exceptionally well. She can now safely enjoy energetic puppy life, play with Gamboa, and explore the world to her curious heart’s content.

Gamboa said she believes Apollonia’s health journey is proof that miracles happen. 

“There is hope. There are doctors out there who believe they can save these puppies and these senior dogs,” she said. “Some people are doctors to be doctors, and then there are people who are doctors who love animals and will do whatever it takes to save them.

“Doctors who are also animal lovers save lives like my Apollonia’s,” she said. “I’m so thankful we had doctors at Texas A&M who gave Apollonia love and saved her life and that we were able to receive financial help from the SARGE and The Capper and Chris Save the Animals Fund. I’m so grateful to Texas A&M.”


For more information about the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of VMBS Communications, Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu, 979-862-4216

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