A Puppy That Couldn’t Eat is Saved at Penn Vet

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 any down. Grove knew something was seriously wrong, and local vets diagnosed megaesophogus: Something was blocking food from reaching Basil's stomach.

The problem was a persistent right aortic arch, a birth defect causing one of the blood vessels coming off of Basil’s heart to pinch his esophagus. With such a narrow opening, Basil could only drink liquids, and was at risk of aspirating his food. His prognosis was poor.      

Grove didn’t like either of the options offered to Basil—risky open-heart surgery or euthanasia—so he searched the internet for a third. Online, he discovered the University of Pennsylvania's Ryan Veterinary Hospital and its new minimally invasive surgical suite.

The Buerger Family Minimally Invasive Surgery Suite at Ryan is the first such facility of its kind at a veterinary teaching hospital. After examining Basil, Jeffrey Runge, lecturer of surgery at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine, thought the puppy was a good candidate to be one of the suite’s first patients.  

The procedure involved snaking an endoscope (a long, flexible fiber-optic camera) and a series of grippers and cutters through pencil-sized ports in the dog’s chest, up to his heart. Light was shone through the esophagus so Runge and fellow surgeon Julie Callahan Clark could see exactly where it was being constricted. By cutting the aortic arch and reconnecting it in its proper place, the surgeons were able to reverse Basil’s potentially fatal genetic condition.   

Six months after the 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. Reduced recovery time is one of the advantages of minimally invasive surgery.   

“I brought him up on Sunday, the surgery was on Monday, and I took him home on Wednesday,” says Grove.    

Video by Kurtis Sensenig
Text by Evan Lerner