A British Labrador is the first dog in the world to undergo ground-breaking open-heart surgery to cure a life-threatening condition.
Three-year-old pooch Mabel suffered from congenital tricuspid dysplasia, meaning key valves in her heart were effectively fused together.
The condition meant her ventricles had just two very small holes for her blood to flow through, leading to Mabel suffering from extreme exhaustion and heart failure.
She was referred to cardiology specialists at the Royal Veterinary College’s (RVC) Queen Mother Hospital for Animals in Hatfield, Herts.
Initial examinations included cardiac ultrasound using a state-of-the-art ultrasound scanner.
Professor Dan Brockman performed the six-hour operation, assisted by a large team of specialists including a perfusionist, three anaesthetists and two nurses.
The lifesaving surgery on February 15 was a world-first using cutting-edge technology to reverse Mabel’s heart failure.
The procedure involved surgeons draining blood out of the main veins of Mabel’s body before it entered the heart and then returned to a major artery once it had been oxygenated by the heart lung machine.
Vets then injected a solution with a high potassium content into the arteries that go to the muscle of the heart.
The fluid, which stops the heart beating and metabolic activity of the heart muscles, allowed vets to open the heart and inspect the structures inside.
Because the tricuspid valve was fused in the middle, vets sliced it open to free it from the fused ventricle before stitching it back together.
As a result, the newly stitched up valve was wide enough to allow the blood to flow through more easily.
The operation was deemed a complete success and Mabel returned to her home in Melton, Leics., after spending a six days in intensive care recovering.
Relieved owner Annabelle Meek, 69, a retired legal secretary, said: “This was the first time anyone has carried out open-heart surgery using the new equipment.
“Dr Brockman explained that he usually opts for a synthetic valve to replace the damaged one, but Mabel would not benefit from this type of operation.
“He decided to repair the valve instead, and showed me a diagram explaining exactly what he was going to do to Mabel.
“The operation lasted six hours. When he came out of theatre, Professor Brockman told me the procedure had been far more complicated that he had initially anticipated.
“Mabel’s valve had been closed since birth, so nobody knows how she had survived for so long.
“She took a turn for the worse when I brought her home to recover.
“She soon recovered, and all of her swelling went down.
“Mabel has just come back in from wandering around the perimeter of my garden for the first time since before the operation.
“It’s more than half-an-acre and she has been ambling around happily following a scent.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled at the success of the surgery. She has come on leaps and bounds.
“My dogs are all I have for company. My husband was tragically killed in a road accident and my son lives in Scotland, so my dogs are my life.
“I would like to thank absolutely everybody. It’s been an enormous team effort on all sides.
“Every single person I met at the RVC, from the man on the gate to all the hospital staff, was so friendly.
“After she came home, Dan phoned me every day to see how she was doing. The RVC should be very proud of what they have done for Mabel.”
Prof Brockman conducted the first open-heart surgery at the RVC in 2005 and has worked alongside human cardiac surgeons and other veterinarians to develop his expertise.
He said: “I explained to Mrs Meek and was very honest that this procedure would be really breaking new ground.
“Based on what the human paediatric cardiac surgeons will do, and our limited experience of balloon-valvuloplasty suggests this is the best approach for these dogs.
“The operation itself is risky, much worse than most other operations. In our hands, for this type of disease, we have about an 80 per cent chance of getting them through the procedure.
“The owner has to gamble what life the dog has left against the promise of a more normal quality of life and life-span following the operation.”