My alarm clock goes off at 5:00 AM. I really didn’t sleep much anyway, mostly that fitful half sleep/half anxiety conglomeration that occurs before a big day. I’m pretty adept at suppressing my emotions, so I can’t really identify what I’m feeling: some kind of mix of worry, fear, excitement, anticipation.
I’m driving our clinic kitten, Albert, to the veterinary school at Texas A&M University for a visit with the Cardiology service.
Albert is a kitten in our rescue program. He came to us as part of an incredibly sickly litter of kittens. His wonderful fosters got him, and most of his siblings, through multiple, horrible bouts of upper respiratory viruses and a whopping case of ringworm. (we lost two, they were just too small and too sick)
The remaining kittens recovered from their maladies, but Albert lagged just behind the others. A little smaller, a little weaker. Probably because he has one of the worst heart murmurs we’ve ever heard in a kitten.
A heart murmur is basically the sound of turbulence in the heart. Blood normally swooshes around between the chambers and the valves in a predictable “lub-dub” rhythm. A typical murmur sounds like “lub-shhh-dub”, usually caused by a leaky valve. In kittens, they’re usually physiologic, transient and so quiet that you have to listen really hard with your stethoscope to convince yourself it’s there.
Your typical kitten murmur is generally graded about a 1 out of 6. We score murmurs on a subjective basis depending on how loud they are. Albert’s is a 6 out of 6.More of a SHHH SHHH SHHH sound, the “lub” obliterated by the murmur, the “dub” sound minimal. Meaning it’s so loud that not only can you hear it with a stethoscope, but you can just barely hear it in a quiet room with your naked ear. What makes it a 6 is that you can *feel* the turbulence with your hand on his body wall, this is called a “palpable thrill”. (Which makes me wonder, which came first: the *thrill* of a heart murmur or the *thrill* of excitement?)
Albert is 4 months old now. He breathes harder than he should, but plays like a madman. He’s just wild. He spends the mornings playing with whatever he can get his paws on. He mines our tech, Rachel’s purse for old receipts, because, when wadded up, they make the best cat toys. Once I caught him playing with a syringe. He hogs my chair & trashes my desk every day.
Albert’s heart is huge. Literally, on X-ray, it’s scary how enlarged it is. Figuratively, I think he’s loved so much by everyone in our practice that his heart has grown to accommodate it. But it’s also a ticking time bomb. Theoretically, he could keel over at any time, we’re not going to think about that. But we all secretly watch his every move with a heady combination of sheer love and sheer terror.
Back to our story: Albert and I packed up and made the 3 hour drive to College Station. We met with two lovely vet students, equally lovely resident and intern, and the legendary Dr. Sonia Gordon: boarded Cardiologist and professor. What started out as a 45 minute echocardiogram became 5 hours of careful scrutiny and head scratching on the part of the whole cardiology service.
They aren’t really even sure what his diagnosis is. He’s got multiple congenital abnormalities. The worst of which they THINK is a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). It’s an artery that you need as a fetus, but not once you’re born. Typically it closes off automatically at birth, but in some cases it doesn’t & it causes some blood to bypass the lungs. Albert’s is way bigger than normal, and the blood flows a weird way and it doesn’t sound like a typical PDA.
The good news is the vets & students are CAUTIOUSLY optimistic that it MIGHT be fixable and he MIGHT get to live a kind of normal life. MAYBE.
So the plan now is to start him on medication to help his heart and recheck him in about 3-4 months, when he’s a little bigger and a little stronger. The hope is to re-scan him to get a better idea of his pathology. (They’re even ordering a tiny pediatric esophageal ultrasound probe to help get better images).
If all goes well with that, then they will have everything ready to go straight to surgery (if it’s an option) to try and repair the defect(s). Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine (my & Dr. Shults’ alma matter) is the only place in the state that can do this: perform open heart surgery on a kitten. *Feels surge of pride at the fact that we got our educations at such an amazing place*
So: Prayers for little Albert, that he continues to grow and thrive, that his issue is fixable and that he goes to surgery and survives.
If you wonder where your Mazie’s donations go: it goes to things like this. Hopefully another #MaziesMiracle. We love this: helping the helpless. YOU help us do it. And for that we are grateful.