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Oklahoma State University

Making Heart History

Friday, February 26, 2016

Making Heart History

Romano, a 6 month old kitten owned by Linda Wheeler of Tulsa Okla., has a hole in his heart. Drs. Ryan Baumwart, veterinary cardiologist, and Danielle Dugat, small animal surgeon, of OSU’s Veterinary Medical Hospital collaborated on the never-been-done-before-in-Oklahoma heart procedure to correct the heart defect.

When Wheeler took Romano in for his first shots, her veterinarian detected a heart murmur and referred her to OSU. According to Baumwart, there was a hole in the heart that was causing blood to shunt.  This shunting of blood was overworking the left side of the heart leading to congestive heart failure.  This procedure will hopefully decrease the shunting and put less work load on the heart.

The day before surgery Wheeler dropped Romano off at OSU’s Veterinary Medical Hospital.

“The procedure hasn’t been done in Oklahoma,” said Wheeler. “From just watching Dr. Baumwart in coming here four different times, I can tell he’s very competent. He did his research on the procedure and I very much trust him.”

Amy Tomcheck of Milwaukee, Wis., the fourth year veterinary student assigned to Romano’s case, performed a physical exam on the cat and reviewed his medical history with Wheeler. Dr. Dugat talked through what would take place during surgery.

“We’ve got our game plan all lined out,” Dugat reassured her. “We’re going to go into the chest on the left side and do an intercostal thoracotomy. That’s the easiest access. We’re going to use a retractor to separate his ribs and the pulmonary artery will be sitting right there.”

After a lengthy discussion with Wheeler, Dr. Dugat asked, “So are you ready?”

“I’m ready. I trust you more than you know,” confirmed Wheeler.

The next day Baumwart monitored Romano’s pressures while Dugat inserted a catheter into his pulmonary artery and then placed a band around the pulmonary artery. The trick was to tighten the band enough but not too much. Two days later, Romano was well enough to go home.

“It turned into a little bit of a guessing game,” explained Baumwart as he showed Wheeler videos of Romano’s heart beating. “We had to give Romano some drugs to keep the pressures up to avoid kidney damage and at the same time try to adjust the pressures as Dr. Dugat placed the band around the artery.”

“You’re going to get to live a little longer,” Wheeler told Romano as she lovingly stroked his black and white coat. “So just a handful of these have really been done across the U.S. I knew you could do it.”

“Everything went the way it was supposed to because we all had our plan and everybody stuck to the plan,” echoed Dugat.

Wheeler looked at Romano again.

“That incision looks wonderful. You guys did great,” she said as she wiped away a tear. “Thank you so much. Thank you so much.”

The procedure performed on Romano will allow him to live a longer, healthier life. The only alternative is to have open heart surgery performed to correct the hole in his heart. Only a couple of veterinary hospitals in the United States have the capacity to perform this procedure.

“To see such joy in an owner’s eyes when the procedure you perform is successful makes this a fulfilling profession,” said Dugat. “I could not have had the confidence I needed in performing this procedure for the first time if it was not for an owner who was willing to hand over the life of her baby into my hands. More so, developing a plan before surgery and understanding every individual’s important role to the success of the surgery made the execution seamless.”

Romano is a stray that wandered into Wheeler’s sister’s yard. His face is marked almost exactly the same as a cat of Wheeler’s that recently passed away. It was enough of a resemblance to bring tears to her eyes when she saw Romano for the first time. The only difference – Romano has a perfect heart on his nose. Perhaps a sign that this kitten would be part of making heart history at OSU.

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