Save that tiger - Texas A&M vets set first-ever surgery

December 03, 2000

COLLEGE STATION - In a first-of-its kind surgical procedure, surgeons from Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine and the Texas Children's Hospital will perform a heart operation to save the life of Karma, a five-month-old Bengal tiger from the Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge in Tyler, Texas.

The surgery, scheduled for Saturday (Dec. 9) at the Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, will be performed by Dr. Theresa Fossum, a veterinary surgeon at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M, and by Dr. Charles Fraser Jr., a pediatric cardiac surgeon at the Texas Children's Hospital. Both surgical teams are donating their time and expertise in an effort to save the tiger's life.

At only 45 pounds, the tiger cub has failed to thrive because of his condition and is at least 20 pounds underweight. Dr. Sonya Gordon, a veterinary cardiologist at the College of Veterinary Medicine, has determined the tiger suffers from Tetralogy of Fallot, a life-threatening heart condition that can only be corrected by surgery.

Although routine on children, the surgical procedure to be performed on the tiger may create some unique challenges since it has never before been attempted. Following the surgery in Houston, the tiger will be in recovery at a hospital research facility and later will be transported to the intensive care unit at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M.

"If everything goes well and no complications arise, the tiger is expected to remain in intensive care for at least three to five days," says Fossum.

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that bypass surgery to correct a complex congenital heart defect has been done on a tiger," Fossum adds. The procedure to correct this defect is considered routine in children and Texas Children's Hospital is one of the leading institutions for this type of surgery.

"Our chances for a successful outcome are greatly increased with Dr. Fraser and his medical team contributing to this effort," Fossum says.

"Dr. Fraser is a skilled surgeon in this procedure and we believe that learning these techniques can benefit our animal patients as well."

With the Michael E. DeBakey Institute for Comparative Cardiovascular Science and Biomedical Devices recently established at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University, advancements in veterinary cardiology treatment and surgery are on the horizon. "We plan to develop a heart surgery program so that we can perform bypass procedures on pets and other animals," Fossum says.

Heart disease, including the need for valve replacement or repair, is common in dogs. Established in 1916, the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine is one of the world's leading institutions in animal health care and research.
Contact: Diane Oswald at 979-845-1780.

Texas A&M University

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