Successful Surgery for Tetralogy of Fallot
Team successfully performs rare heart surgery at Veterinary Medical Center
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A team from the University of Minnesota Medical School and College of Veterinary Medicine successfully performed heart surgery for tetralogy of Fallot on Duke, a 2-year-old American Staffordshire terrier, at the Veterinary Medical Center on April 11.
Commonly referred to as “a hole in the heart,” tetralogy of Fallot is a complex congenital heart defect in which the heart and great blood vessels have not been properly formed. The most common heart anomaly in children, it involves four defects: ventricular septal defect, a hole in the wall separating the left and right ventricles; pulmonary stenosis or narrowing, which makes the heart work harder; overriding aorta, a defect in the main artery that carries blood to the body; and right ventricular hypertrophy (thickening) secondary to the pulmonary stenosis.
Dr. Chris Stauthammer examines Duke 15 days after surgery. The patient is feeling better and enjoying increased activity.
Those who suffer from the defect cannot get enough blood flow to the lungs, tire easily, and develop cyanosis, a blue coloration of the skin or mucous membranes.
In children, tetralogy of Fallot is treated with open-heart surgery. But, until recently, no treatment was available for dogs. At best, the condition was managed with medication. Untreated, dogs with tetralogy of Fallot rarely live beyond two years.
For Duke, the problem was first detected when a veterinarian examining the dog heard a heart murmur, an extra or unusual sound during a heartbeat. Duke’s owner, Sam Hjort, had noticed that Duke didn’t tolerate exercise well. The dog’s tongue, normally pink, became grey, a telltale sign that his blood was poorly oxygenated. Hjort brought Duke to the Veterinary Medical Center’s cardiology service, where the condition was confirmed with an echocardiogram.
The palliative procedure, which involved the use of a modified Blalock-Taussig shunt to direct blood flow to the lungs, has been performed on dogs before, but this was the first time it had been done at the Veterinary Medical Center or anywhere else in Minnesota. The surgical team was headed by Richard W. Bianco, associate professor of surgery and director of Experimental Surgical Services at the Medical School and adjunct associate professor of veterinary medicine, and Dr. Vicki Wilke, assistant clinical professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine. The procedure took approximately two hours.
On April 26, Duke returned to the Veterinary Medical Center to have his sutures removed and for a recheck exam and echocardiogram by Dr. Chris Stauthammer, a veterinary cardiologist. While the procedure is palliative (not a cure), Duke feels better and is enjoying increased activity, his owner says.
And Duke’s cardiologist couldn’t be more pleased.
“Not only were we able to help Duke, but we are now able to offer treatment for a condition we were only able to manage with medication before,” says Stauthammer. “It was a great team effort.”