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Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Matter Of The Heart

One of my favorite memories from veterinary school involves a little puppy with a severe heart condition. The puppy had a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), which is a very serious disorder. When the fetus is in the mother the blood bypasses the lungs since the lungs have no oxygen in them. Instead of the blood pumping into the lungs, it passes from one side of the heart to the other. When the baby is born, this ductus arteriousus is supposed to close down, allowing blood to flow completely into the lungs.

In rare cases the ductus arteriosus remains open. Some of the blood bypasses the lungs, not picking up oxygen. So the puppy's blood has less oxygen than it should, potentially starving the body and tissues. If this continues for long enough, it can be life-threatening. The only cure is surgery. The most common way is to open the chest, get to the heart, and tie off the PDA. This will allow the blood to completely flow through the lungs instead of bypassing them. In recent years there is another procedure where a mesh is passed through the vessels without open-chest surgery, closing the PDA internally.

Well, back to the story. This puppy was brought in by a man who looked like a stereotypical biker. He had a leather jacket, big bushy beard, and numerous tattoos. If you encountered this guy on a dark street, you'd be very worried. And you definitely wouldn't want to get on his bad side or get into a fight with him. In other words, a potentially intimidating person.

You certainly can't judge a book by its cover. He was an extraordinarilly nice and caring man, especially when we found out why he was there. You see, he had adopted this puppy from a shelter knowing that it had a PDA, and knowing that the surgery would be about $2000 (at that time....more expensive now). He knew that the puppy would die without surgery, and knew that most people wouldn't adopt it knowing it had such a serious condition. So he adopted the puppy because nobody would take it home and have the surgery done. He truly wanted to help this little puppy who had a bad heart. Thankfully, the biker guy had a very, very good heart.

The puppy had his surgery (one of my favorite surgical experiences, as I was allowed to ligate the PDA!), recovered perfectly, and went home with his new owner. That man taught me how someone could love a dog unconditionally, and how much generosity a person could show. I also learned that you need to talk to someone and not judge them based on appearances. I sometimes wonder what he and the puppy are doing, or even if the puppy is still alive (this was 13-14 years ago). But I have every confidence that he continued to give that little pup a great, loving life.


  1. What a great story! My friend is a vet tech who ended up with a PDA pup when the owner didn't want to pay for the surgery. One little surgery, you'd never know there was ever anything wrong with her!

    And a great lesson about not judging a book by its spiked leather jacket - er, cover! ;) Reminds me of one of my fav rescue groups here in New York City, Rescue Ink. Big muscles, bigger hearts!

  2. What a great story to remind us there are good people out there!

  3. hi hello i came about to this story and it sounds like a great success story . i ended up with a puppy who has pda and im really scare. im willing to do anything for this little pup ive grown really attach to him . do you have any idea how much it would cause now? or if there are any programs where i could get involved with?

  4. Linda, it is now June 10 and I am wondering how the surgery went. My little 2.5 lb. maltese puppy is scheduled for the PDA surgery in mid July and I am fearful.
    How did it go?


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