Texas A&M and Georgia Collaborate for Good

On December 28, 2009 the fightin’ Texas Aggie football team will face the University of Georgia in a fierce competition at the annual Independence Bowl. However, off the playing field, the universities have collaborated as one team in an effort to save animal lives.

Dr. David Nelson and Pinky

This past October, Dr. David Nelson, chief of emergency and critical care services at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, was presenting a paper at a conference in Washington D.C. It was there that a colleague of his from the University of Georgia approached him with a unique opportunity. One of the veterinary medical students at the University of Georgia had adopted a dog earlier in the year, and now the student’s beloved pet, a dachshund named Pinky, was in serious danger from a fairly unusual heart condition called “Core Triatriatum Dexter” which is Latin for “Heart with three atriums, right sided”. Since there was no veterinarian at the University of Georgia College Of Veterinary Medicine who had the right experience needed for this type of surgery and there was a team of clinicians at Texas A&M that did, Dr. Nelson offered to do the surgery as an outreach effort where veterinarians and students from both schools could exchange knowledge and perhaps save a life.

“I have had a substantial experience in this type of surgery that they didn’t have at Georgia, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity also to teach residents more about this type of surgery and exchange ideas” said Nelson. “Pinky’s condition was deteriorating rapidly, so everything had to be done quickly. I traveled down to Georgia with Kate Nelson, RN, CP, OR Supervisor here at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. Thanks to the generosity of the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital administration here, she and I were able to take several key instruments and operating equipment that were needed to perform this critical surgery.”

Pinky, a two year old female spayed dachshund was suffering from the effects of the congenital defect that occurs while the heart is formed during the puppies’ embryonic stage and does not develop properly. Signs of Pinky’s condition were not noticed by her owners until this past May, when her heart became weak due to fluid buildup in her body when the blood from the body was unable to get back to the heart.

“Georgia had attempted a non-invasive procedure in cardiology, attempting to pop a membrane open by blowing up a balloon, but unfortunately that was unsuccessful” said Nelson. “The surgery we performed involves cooling the patient down to a low body temperature. We then stop the blood flow through the heart. After this is done, the heart is basically holding its breath so we must get in there and fix the problem in less than five minutes and close up the heart. After the surgery, Pinky’s heart would not beat on its own, so we inserted a pacing device that makes it beat at a set rate. It took some time for her heart to get used to pumping blood again, which eventually happened several hours later (while Pinky was on life support), and now Pinky is running around enjoying the normal life of a favored pet. A great thing about Pinky’s condition is that the surgery performed is a permanent fixture and Pinky should not experience those heart problems ever again.”

Dr. Nelson and the team spent about a week at the University of Georgia and were able to tour the hospital and all of their facilities. While there, they were able to visit with clinicians, residents, and students about the procedure, suturing techniques and different methods used at Texas A&M.

“The people were extremely friendly and we couldn’t have had a better stay,” said Nelson. “It was just a truly great opportunity to compare programs, techniques, and share knowledge.”

The collaborative effort of the two universities has turned out to be a huge success, not only to Pinky and her owners, but to future pets with the same problem that will benefit from the care and expertise of these great veterinarians who worked together for good.

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