Puerto Rican pup receives the gift of a healthy future thanks to minimally invasive heart procedure at CSU

White Dog
Will, a 9 month-old puppy, traveled to CSU from Puerto Rico for a minimally invasive heart procedure to correct a congenital defect. (CSU Photo)

This holiday season provides a special reason to celebrate for an adorable pup named Will and his community of supporters at the Puerto Rico Humane Society.

On Dec. 1, the 9-month-old pup received a rare cardiac procedure performed by experts at the Colorado State University James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Will is now recovering and ready for his forever home, thanks to the generosity of his local community who raised funds to send him to Fort Collins for care.

At just four weeks old, Will, his mom, and seven siblings were rescued from a field ahead of a tropical storm. The Puerto Rico Humane Society took care of the pups, providing vaccinations, food and medical care. Within a few months, all were adopted except for Will due to a continually swollen belly.

Veterinarian Dr. Ferrer with white dog
Will with his veterinarian in Puerto Rico, Dr. Gabriel Ferrer, who diagnosed his heart condition and referred him to CSU. (Dr. Ferrer Photo)

“We thought his condition would improve after receiving vaccinations and standard medical care, but when it didn’t, we brought him to a private veterinarian,” said Maritza Rodriguez, executive director of the Puerto Rico Humane Society.

Veterinarian Gabriel Ferrer performed an echocardiogram and discovered Will had a heart condition that required either long-term management with medication, or humane euthanasia.

“After his diagnosis, I decided to bring Will into my home to give him the care he needed,” said Rodriguez. “I brought him home knowing he might not make it, and I was okay with giving him a good life for whatever time he had.”

A second echocardiogram provided new information at a follow-up appointment with Ferrer in October. Will had cor triatriatum dexter (CTD), a rare congenital defect where his right atrium is separated into two chambers, when it should only be one. In CTD, the division of the atrium causes an obstruction of blood flow coming back to the heart from the lower body, causing a swollen belly. The good news was that Will’s condition was treatable, but there are few centers that perform the procedure routinely.

“We were thrilled to learn Will had a chance for a normal life,” said Rodriguez.

Following the new diagnosis, Ferrer reached out to a former DVM classmate, CSU veterinary cardiologist Brian Scansen, to discuss Will’s case.

“Dr. Ferrer was two years behind me in veterinary school, and I was an anatomy teaching assistant for his class,” said Scansen. “When he evaluated Will, he reached out to me even though our paths had not crossed for nearly 20 years.”

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Will visits CSU and meets his veterinary cardiology team.

After learning about Scansen and CSU, Rodriguez and her Humane Society team committed to getting Will the care he needed. They launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for Will’s trip to Colorado and the procedure he would need to fix his heart.

“In Puerto Rico, we don’t have many veterinary specialists, and we only have four shelters on the island. Because of that, we have a very high euthanasia rate. When we learned that Will had a chance at a normal life, we felt that helping him would honor all the other animals we couldn’t help.”

Puerto Rico Humane Society friends rallied around Will and quickly raised funds for his trip to Colorado and medical treatment.

From Puerto Rico to Colorado

In late November, Will made the nearly 3,000-mile trip with Rodriguez to CSU to meet Scansen and the cardiology team at CSU.

After the long journey, Rodriguez was immediately impressed. “It’s like a human hospital, and they treat Will like my family member – like he’s important, his life is important.”

Scansen and team, including cardiology resident Marta Karn and fourth-year DVM student Lei Zhang, evaluated Will and observed he had impaired growth, a belly full of fluid, and severe muscle wasting. Will’s condition was rare, as was the pending procedure to repair his heart. “I have implanted stents for Will’s condition a handful of times, maybe five or six over the last 15 years,” said Scansen.

Before heading to surgery, Scansen was concerned whether it would be possible to cross the obstruction in Will’s heart, noting it was unclear whether any opening was present from the back half of his body to his heart.

Woman with dog
Maritza Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Humane Society of Puerto Rico and Will's foster mom, coordinated Will's trip to CSU. (CSU Photo)

Mending a broken heart

On Dec. 1, Will headed to surgery with Scansen, Karn, and team, including interventional cardiology fellow Viktor Szatmári, cath lab technologist Nicole Maddox, sonographer Pound Tantisuwat, anesthesiologist Khursheed Mama, and anesthesia technician Andrea Kessens.

They used the advanced X-ray and ultrasound equipment of the CSU Pocket Foundation Hybrid Cardiac Interventional Suite to identify a pinhole-size opening. Next, they were able to direct a thin wire through the hole, cut the membrane with a special balloon, and then dilate the opening and hold it open with a metal stent. This minimally invasive technique avoids the complications of open surgery and minimizes healing time.

Will recovered well from anesthesia and was in the hospital overnight. The following day, doctors performed a post-operative echocardiogram which showed good flow through the stent and an increase in his overall heart size, which was great news.

“He has an excellent prognosis; now that blood is flowing back to his heart through the correct path, all of his signs should resolve, and he should be able to live a full life,” said Scansen.

“Will was the sweetest patient to work with, and everyone in the hospital fell in love with him,” said cardiology resident Marta Karn. “Will’s foster mom, Maritza, clearly loves him unconditionally and has been so dedicated to her boy this whole journey.”

A healthy future

On Dec. 6, Will returned for his post-operative checkup and reunited with his CSU team one last time.

“Will was an exceptional patient; despite travel from a long distance and a very sick heart, he was bright and loving to everyone on his care team and truly seemed to understand we were trying to help him,” said Scansen.

Sharing her feelings about the experience, Rodriguez is grateful to everyone who provided hope for Will’s future, from the community in Puerto Rico to his veterinary team in Colorado.

“I feel lucky to have been a part of Will’s medical team and can’t wait to hear updates about his great life,” said Karn.

Following his appointment, Will and Rodriguez plan to return to Puerto Rico, where he’ll be welcomed by his community. And, of course, someday soon, his forever home.

“Everyone wants him now,” said Rodriguez. “I know wherever he goes, he’ll have a large loving family in Puerto Rico and life-long friends in Colorado.”

White dog with veterinary care team
Will, a 9 month-old puppy came to the VTH for heart surgery from Puerto Rico. Shown here with a few members of his care team (left to right) Dr. Brian Scansen, Professor of Clinical Sciences, Lei Zhang, 4th year DVM student, Dr. Marta Karn, Cardiology Resident, Andrea Kessens, Anesthesia Technician (CSU Photo)