“Yes, Virginia, there are veterinary Fairy Godmothers at the Schwarzman Animal Medical Center in New York City.”
Virginia, a young Last Hope Shepherd mix from a Georgia shelter had a very rare congenital heart condition repaired at the Schwarzman AMC via the kindness of the AMC to the Rescue program-and her fairy godmother/ miracle worker surgeon Dr. Pamela Schwartz (who years ago made our Shih Tzu Pammy Sue’s leg- shattered in a Kentucky puppy mill breeder dog cage- as good as new).
Poor Virginia could not hold down food because her aortic defect was constricting her esophagus. Last February, this friendly Shepherd followed a boy home from the bus stop in Georgia but his family had dogs so they sent her to their local, overcrowded shelter. It makes you wonder if she was originally discarded because she couldn’t hold food down.
The rest of Virginia’s story has the makings of a dog fairy tale with top notch veterinary skill and compassion as the magic wands.
Meet Virginia: Last Hope’s dog coordinator Letty chooses dogs from our Georgia partner shelters from their descriptions, photos and videos posted online by the transport coordinator. Other Long Island shelters are choosing from the same list. There was no mention (or knowledge) of Virginia’s health problem at that time, only this statement:
“Virginia, a two-year-old, 48 pound Shepherd came into our shelter after a caller stated she followed her son off the school bus one day and would not leave. It is apparent Virginia had a family at one time. She keeps a clean kennel and seems uncertain with her daily life in a shelter. She is very calm and well-mannered. And dog friendly.”
Virginia arrived frail and gaunt. She would eat and vomit. At first we thought she was recovering from starvation so she received small, frequent meals. When that didn’t help, Letty asked Kate, a volunteer at Last Hope and Town of Hempstead Shelter, to foster her. Kate was a Shepherd lover who had recently lost her Flat-coated Retriever to an aggressive cancer. Kate, her family and Lab mix Penny embraced Virginia (who they renamed Birdie).
Kate’s husband Andy always cooked for their dogs. He started making Birdie chicken stew with broth, served in three small meals a day. In retrospect, his recipe probably sustained Birdie before her diagnosis because of the nourishment in the broth. Still, Birdie would vomit up to seven times after a meal. She had little energy, a poor coat, but was incredibly sweet.
Our vet, Dr. Christine Bayha, began to suspect a problem with Birdie’s esophagus, and later mentioned a congenital heart defect that could squeeze the esophagus. She did an x-ray with contrast of Birdie’s chest that was suspicious for a condition called persistent right aortic arch. According to some literature the defect is overly represented in German Shepherds. (The Animal Surgical Center of Michigan mentions Shepherds, Great Danes and Irish Setters.)
AMC to the Rescue: The Schwarzman Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, has been a world leader in veterinary care since 1910. The Emma and Georgina Bloomberg AMC to the Rescue Fund is one of the hospitals community funds, supported by individual and foundation donations. The AMC is a teaching hospital. This fund was established specifically to provide subsidized specialty care to animals currently cared for by rescue groups in the New York metropolitan area, whose health has become an obstacle to their adoption.
AMC to the Rescue has been very generous to Last Hope cats and dogs. Among our recipients: Frankie, an orange kitten had eyelids surgically created and then was invited to the closing bell at NASDAQ. When his photo was projected on the Jumbotron, everyone in Times Square could admire Frankie’s new peepers. Oreo, a Border Collie mix and Shelby, a Lab mix, received total hip replacements. Both were probably hit by cars before they came to Last Hope as Southern shelter rescues.
Last Hope will pay a small stipend toward Virginia’s heart surgery. Most of the fee is covered by AMC to the Rescue. Barbara, who adopted Oreo, was quite helpful to Kate in filling out the AMC to the Rescue application for Virginia’s surgery.
Dr. Pamela Schwartz: After Dr. Schwartz repaired Pammy Sue (her namesake)’s leg in 2014, the Shih tzu became one of Last Hope’s three ambassadogs meeting with scouts and students. Her mom Sue shows the x-ray of Pammy Sue’s bionic leg, and Dr. Schwartz has gained folk hero status with hundreds of Long Island kids.
Virginia’s application was approved mid-June. Dr. Schwartz performed her high-risk, life-altering heart surgery two weeks later. First, Virginia had a CT scan which revealed she had been born with a double aortic arch, one of the rarest canine congenital cardiac defects. Dr. Schwartz described it as having a lap band tightened around her esophagus. She had performed three or four persistent right aortic arch repairs in the last few months but had never had a double arch case previously.
A canine fetus develops two aortic arches but one usually disappears before the puppy is born. Instead, when there is a vascular abnormality, the aorta splits into two branches that loop around and dilate the esophagus. Dr. Schwartz must be sure she is about to tie off the smaller branch because there is less chance of internal bleeding, and the stronger branch is left intact as the dog’s functioning aorta. She and her team test first before making a permanent change.
An internal medicine specialist positions at the dog’s head and performs an endoscopy during the surgery. The camera sends light and air down the dog’s opened esophagus once the constricting vessel is tied off. When the surgeon is ready to make the permanent repair, she enters through the right side rib cage, places a vessel loop and a temporary tourniquet. Once she is sure it is the correct vessel, she puts in permanent sutures, then cauterizes using a vessel sealing between her sutures. The surgery took about 2.5 hours, and Virginia was ready to go home the next day.
Virginia could digest food right away, with the size and texture of meals introduced gradually. It’s almost a month since the operation. She wore a cover-up to protect her incision, which has healed well. She has lots of energy. It’s hard to restrict her from zooming, and she is eating larger meatball size portions. Her family adores her.
The irony is Virginia’s heart was fine. She had major cardiac surgery so she could digest food. Many people Virginia met since the day she appeared at the bus stop gave of their fine hearts so this dog could thrive and enjoy life to the fullest.