Rare heart surgery at UC Davis gives cat a chance at more lives

Vanilla Bean lives thanks to surgery by a team from UC Davis.
Vanilla Bean lives thanks to surgery by a team from UC Davis. UC Davis

A cat from Mill Valley who suffered from a bad heart has eight more lives thanks to collaboration between veterinarians and doctors at UC Davis.

Vanilla Bean, a 1-year-old Burmese cat, was helped with her rare heart defect by surgery that is also not commonplace.

The cat was first diagnosed with the rare congenital heart defect by a veterinary cardiologist, Kristin MacDonald, a former UC Davis cardiology resident.

Vanilla Bean’s heart did not allow blood to flow correctly through its chambers.

That abnormality caused blood to pool, creating an enlarged chamber that would ultimately lead to congestive heart failure.

The defect is also found in children.

A technique to correct the defect in cats had reportedly been done only once, by veterinarian Josh Stern, who is now at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, or VMTH, at UC Davis.

Stern and a team of doctors from UC Davis Medical Center who usually treat humans set about to fix Vanilla Bean, according to a news release from the vet school.

“I needed a human cardiology team to help guide me on this case,” Stern said in the news release. “It’s so uncommon in cats. It’s uncommon in children also, but they've certainly seen more cases of this than I have.”

Veterinarian Bill Culp, a soft tissue surgeon at VMTH, opened the cat’s chest, while Stern and Dr. Jeff Van Gundy, a clinical professor of pediatrics specializing in cardiology, began the process of positioning catheters and balloons within Vanilla Bean’s heart.

Dr. Jay Yeh, an assistant professor of pediatrics who specializes in cardiology, and veterinarian Lance Visser, a cardiologist at the vet hospital, through echocardiography helped Stern visualize where he was in the feline’s heart. They also monitored the success of each surgical technique.

The operation was a success but Vanilla Bean lost a lot of blood. The vet school, however, has a large veterinary blood bank so transfusions were at the ready.

The blood loss caused kidney injury, but the cat was able to go home eight days after surgery.

After a four-month recuperation, an examination revealed that Vanilla Bean is no longer in congestive heart failure. Stern expects the cat to make a complete recovery.