When a sick Labrador retriever named Yankee arrived at the University of Florida Veterinary Medical Center back in 2006, doctors were appalled at what they discovered in her body: a barbeque skewer had perforated Yankee’s stomach and pierced her heart.
It had happened months before: Yankee ate a steak kabob on Halloween. Yankee’s owners, the Stazzones, said that she “grabbed one, practically inhaling the whole thing. Immediately she was sick and throwing up, [but] everything cleaned up was steak… no stick.”
This one event led to a long list of consequences. Yankee had surgery to remove part of the bamboo skewer from her stomach. And while her health improved initially, within two months’ time Yankee’s vigor was rapidly deteriorating.
By January, seven-year-old Yankee arrived at VMC in an inexplicably poor condition. Nikki Hackendahl, D.V.M., a small animal internal medicine resident at UF at the time, reported that Yankee was anemic and had a heart murmur. She immediately called veterinary cardiologist Amara Estrada, D.V.M for a consultation. Together – with the help of colleagues at Shands Health Care – they performed an echocardiogram on Yankee that led to a fascinating and critical discovery: an odd, linear shape in the heart.
In a collaborative procedure between UF vets and physicians, Yankee had open heart surgery to remove the barbecue skewer. Renowned heart surgeon, Dr. Mark Bleiweis, performed the operation. Yankee was on bypass for 55 minutes to pinpoint the exact location of the skewer, and the entire operation lasted about five hours.
Bleiweis said of the procedure, “I’m really proud of what we did, and that we were able to put this many people from so many specialties together to save this dog’s life. I’m an animal owner, and this is someone’s family member.”
The medical team was able to successfully remove the skewer and rebuild the damaged heart valve. And despite the infection, Yankee did so well during the procedure that she was off the ventilator, out of the operating room, and standing on all fours that very same day. Yankee recuperated for about a week at the VMC small animal intensive care unit before she was released.
Dogs are famous for their appetites, and Nat Geo WILD has a new show called My Dog Ate What?. This series features stories of dogs that have eaten astonishing things – from cash to underwear to fish hooks – and what it took to save their lives.
Tune in to My Dog Ate What? on Nat Geo WILD on Tuesdays at 10 PM ET/PT.
Video Preview of tonight’s episode: “Thongs, Pacifiers, and $800”