When Basil was born, everything seemed fine. For his owner, Brent Grove, who drives a bus and raises dogs on his Westminister, Md., farm, the German shepherd was the latest, cutest addition to his pack. Basil nursed like a normal puppy, but when he graduated to solid food, he couldn’t keep it down. Grove knew something was seriously wrong and local vets diagnosed megaesophogus; something was blocking food from getting to Basil’s stomach.
The trouble was a persistent right aortic arch, a birth defect that caused one of the blood vessels coming off of Basil’s heart to pinch his esophagus. With such a narrow opening, Basil could only drink a liquid diet, and was at risk of aspirating his food. His prognosis was poor.
Grove didn’t like either of Basil’s options—risky open-heart surgery or euthanasia—so he searched the internet for a third choice. He found the Penn’s Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital and its new minimally-invasive surgical suite.
Minimally invasive surgery has been practiced on humans for decades but is only first becoming available for companion animals. Ryan’s Buerger Family Foundation Minimally Invasive Surgery Suite is the first such facility at a veterinary teaching hospital.
After seeing Basil, Jeffrey Runge, lecturer of surgery at Penn Vet thought the puppy was a good candidate to be one of the suite’s first patients.
Basil’s procedure involved snaking an endoscope—a long, flexible fiber-optic camera—and a series of grippers and cutters through small ports in his chest up to his heart. Runge and fellow surgeon Julie Callahan Clark looked through the endoscope to see exactly where the esophagus was being constricted. By cutting the aortic arch and reconnecting it in its proper place, the surgeons were able to reverse Basil’s potential fatal genetic condition.
Six months after his surgery, Basil shows no sign that he ever had trouble eating. He’s put on more than 70 pounds and plays with the energy characteristic of his breed.
Originally published on April 26, 2012