After a harrowing experience a few weeks ago that resulted in open-heart surgery, an Eastside dog is on her way to recovering to full health.
On May 16, Abby, a 4-year-old German shorthaired pointer, and her owner Adam Becker were spending the afternoon playing at Camp Don Bosco in Carnation when she was injured by a stick that had punctured her chest. Abby was chasing a ball in the brush when Becker heard her.
“I didn’t actually see it happen,” he said. “I just heard her cry.”
When he found her, there wasn’t much blood, but Becker saw the gaping hole in her chest. He pressed his sweatshirt against the hole as he carried her to his car and brought her to Redmond-Fall City Animal Hospital (RFCAH) in Redmond, which was about 15 minutes away from the camp.
Terri Hartung, the veterinarian who initially treated Abby, applied a bandage to the wound to stop the bleeding and prevent infection. She also gave the dog pain medication as Abby appeared to be in shock.
“Her heart rate was just off the wall,” said Hartung, who has been with RFCAH since 1996. “We weren’t sure exactly what was going on.”
Becker, who lives in Carnation, hoped all she would need were stitches, but an X-ray showed blood and air in Abby’s chest. After flushing out the wound and closer examination, Hartung found a stick had punctured Abby’s chest. Becker, not understanding the severity of his dog’s injuries questioned why Hartung couldn’t just pull out the stick. He just wanted her to save his dog.
“I was shocked, scared, concerned,” he said.
Hartung explained that the rule is “never move the stick till you know where it’s going,” because — in this case — doing so could have caused Abby’s chest to collapse. But Hartung was not equipped for surgery that night, so she called other local hospitals and learned Seattle Veterinary Specialists (SVS) in Kirkland had a surgeon on duty that night.
Kristin Kirkby was just about to leave SVS for the night when she received the call about Abby around 9 p.m.
When Abby was brought in, an ultrasound showed not only that there was fluid around her heart, but that the stick had actually gone straight through her heart, leaving two punctures.
“We could see the stick beating to the rhythm of her heart,” Kirkby said.
Kirkby and her team split Abby’s breastbone completely open to remove the stick, which was about seven inches long and one inch in diameter. They applied purse-string stitches around the holes, which cinched up the wounds to prevent Abby’s heart from bleeding out, adding extra stitches afterwards.
“I haven’t seen anything quite like (Abby’s injuries),” said Kirkby, who has been a vet for eight years and a certified surgeon for three.
Abby spent a week at SVS and while she was there, had a second surgery to re-flush her chest cavity of debris. She spent about a week and a half on a feeding tube (left), which was removed along with her stitches on Wednesday.
Kirkby said Abby is doing fantastic but will continue on her heart medication and antibiotics.
“She still needs to rest for another month while her chest heals from the surgery, but she should be able to run and swim by the end of the summer,” she said.
Kirkby added that Abby’s cardiologist recommended she stay on her medication for a year before trying to decrease the dose.
Becker is more than a little relieved to know Abby will recover but said seeing his dog injured and a lot less active has been difficult because she is “very hyper.”
“It’s kind of scary because that’s not the way she is, you know?” he said. “You just want her to be back to her normal self.”
After Abby’s two surgeries, Becker, who lives with his girlfriend and one other dog, is looking at a $20,000 bill. An account for Abby has been set up at SVS for donations. To donate, call (425) 823-9111.