Veterinarians bring in human doctors to fix a Mill Valley cat’s life

MILL VALLEY (KRON) — A 1-year-old Burmese kitten from Mill Valley is on the road to recovery after being operated on by both veterinarians and human cardiologists.

Little Vanilla Bean was brought to her veterinarian, Dr. Kristin MacDonald suffering from respiratory distress. Dr. MacDonald diagnosed Vanilla Bean with a rare congenital heart defect that does not allow blood to flow properly through the champers.

This condition can cause to much blood to collect in one chamber, create pressure, enlarge it, and ultimately lead to congestive heart failure.

Vanilla Bean’s condition had only been corrected once before, by Dr. Josh Stern when he was at North Carolina State University. Luckily for Vanilla Bean, Dr. Stern had recently transferred to the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at UC Davis.

While Vanilla Bean’s condition is extremely rare for cats, it’s more common in children. In Dr. Stern’s previous case, he brought in human cardiologists from Duke University to help him with the surgery. Knowing how complicated Vanilla Bean’s surgery would be, Dr. Stern asked for help from two cardiologists from the UC Davis Medical Center.

“I needed a human cardiology team to help guide me on this case, as well,” said Dr. Stern. “It’s so uncommon in cats. It’s uncommon in children also, but they’ve certainly seen more cases of this than I have.”

After researching and practicing, the team of doctors went to work on Vanilla Bean. In larger animals, the surgery would have been performed through catheters and doctors wouldn’t have needed to open the chest cavity. Since cats are too small for that, the doctors had to take a more invasive route.

One of the cardiologist opened Vanilla Bean’s chest cavity to expose the heart and started to perform the delicate surgery.

“This is an extremely uncommon technique employed in veterinary medicine,” said Dr. Stern. “It’s even more rarely employed in cats due to their small size.”

With help from the cardiologists, Dr. Stern was able to place the balloon across the defect. The balloon cuts the membrane to allow blood to flow through it regularly.

While the balloon dissection was successful, the kitty’s surgery wasn’t without complication. Vanilla Bean lost a lot of blood and needed several transfusions.

Due to her blood loss, Vanilla Bean suffered an acute kidney injury. Her creatinine levels spiked to dangerously high levels following the procedure while she was recovering in the VMTH’s Intensive Care Unit. Dr. Stern was concerned she would die of kidney failure. Over the course of a week being hospitalized, however, those levels slowly decreased every day.

051515 Vanilla Bean
It was touch-and-go for a bit, but eight days after her surgery, Vanilla Bean was able to go back home to Mill Valley.

The little kitty just had her four-month re-check examination and has continued to improve. The balloon dissection appears to have been successful and she is off medications, no longer in congestive heart failure. Her kidney creatinine levels have also returned to the normal level.

Dr. Stern is happy to say that little Vanilla Bean should make a full recovery and live a happy and healthy life.

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