Ema Becomes Even More Complicated

Ema is waiting and seeing

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Today, Ema was supposed to be undergoing the procedure that we hoped would save her life. Instead, she is sitting here on my feet, as I write this. Ema, it turns out, is even more complicated than we’d thought, and it all has to do with doors.

Allow me to explain, as briefly as I can, and bearing in mind that I am a layperson, and not a veterinarian. This explanation comes to you courtesy of the very excellent University of Guelph Veterinary Cardiologists, Dr. Schuckman and Dr. O’Grady.

Picture your heart as two separate rooms, divided by a wall.

Each room has door leading into it. Ideally, this “door” should open fully, allowing blood to pass through it easily.

Ema’s “door”, however, does not open fully.

Ideal door and stuck door

Luckily, our “rooms” don’t really need their doors – it’s perfectly fine for the doors to remain wide open all the time, or to be non existent. In the balloon procedure, a catheter would be inserted into Ema’s neck, and fed into her heart. There, the balloon would be inflated, essentially tearing her door off of its hinges, leaving her ‘room’ wide open, and allowing her blood flow to move normally through her heart.

However, consider another option with doors.

What if, in addition to the door being stuck, it’s also in a frame that’s too small – much, much too small? In this case, even removing the door isn’t enough, because the frame just isn’t large enough to allow sufficient flow of blood into Ema’s room.

Ema's Door

This is, in essence, Ema’s issue. Removing her door  ( doing the balloon procedure to correct the pulmonary stenosis) wouldn’t be enough to improve her heart’s functioning to any serious degree. However, there’s another procedure that should be able to help her – a surgical correction.

The surgeon will, more or less, tear out Ema’s door frame, building her a wider one shored up with surgical mesh. Ema will then have a wider opening, and no stuck door.

Unfortunately, Drs. Schuckman and O’Grady don’t perform this procedure – they’re the “Balloon Team”, as they informed me. A Cardiac surgeon is needed to perform this, and Guelph only has one at the moment, and she happens to be on holiday until November 8th. Even then, she apparently hasn’t done many of these procedures (do I even need to mention that it’s a rare and complicated surgery, done only by a handful of people in North America? That should go without saying, since this is Ema we’re talking about). So, there’s a chance that Dr. Bisson, Guelph’s Veterinary Cardiac Surgeon, might be more comfortable referring us to a Veterinarian who has more experience in performing this surgery. This will mean sending Ema to perhaps Purdue, Cornell or Ohio State.

So, we sit and we wait. We wait for the Cardiac Surgeon to get back from holidays, then we wait for her to look at Ema’s file and decide if she can perform the surgery. Then, we either wait for a referral to another vet, at another University. Then we wait for a surgery date.

In the meantime, Dr. O’Grady said quite succinctly that “Ema is on a crash course with death”. He was frankly surprised that she’s doing as well as she is, and has survived for as long as she has. He asked, tentatively, if we could possibly tape one of Ema’s seizures – he’s never actually seen one himself, and it would be a great teaching tool for students at the university. Ema had another one this morning, and while I’m all for increasing the pool of knowledge among Veterinarians, grabbing a video camera is not the first thing that comes to mind when your  puppy falls to the floor, goes rigid and then screams in terror.

Financially, we should be OK. This new procedure shouldn’t cost much more the balloon procedure does, but it carries with it both better success, and greater risk. If Ema survives the surgery, her recovery success rate is as great as 95%. There is, however, a 50% chance that she won’t be able to survive the surgery. I’ll take those odds, because without the surgery there is a 100% certainty that Ema will die, and that it will be a slow, painful and terrifying death.

I’m not thinking about that right now, however. I’m just watching the clock and waiting, and so is Ema.

If you would like to read the actual veterinary report written by Dr. Schuckman, please click here to download the PDF.

26 replies
  1. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    I am a concerned Frenchie lover and owner in Chicago and have been following your Ema blog. It’s breaking my heart. If you end up in Purdue or Ohio, let me know how I can help. Sandy

  2. Andrea Morden-Moore
    Andrea Morden-Moore says:

    I am about 2 hours away from Purdue, and they have an EXCELLENT cariodology service. If I can be of any assistance, if that route is decided upon for Ema, elt me know.

    • Robin Homsey-Blaine
      Robin Homsey-Blaine says:

      oh carol as nervous as i was about her procedure today it is even worse now that i know you two are looking at another 3 weeks before you even see a doctor. could guelph refer you now to somewhere in the states so the wait isn’t as long. i read that andrea will help if you and em need it! continued prayer still coming to canada for the both of you.

  3. Breanne
    Breanne says:

    Ema you are a very special & very loved little girl!
    You had my heart in a headlock the moment I set my sight on you.
    To wish you luck is an understatement.
    I wish there was something that could be done asap to make you the strong & vivacious little puppy you deserve to be … but we will have to wait patiently until we get the answers we are all waiting for. Until then please hang in, stay strong & stubborn and know that you have a ton of people who are routing for you & who love you like their own.

    Hugs & kisses

  4. Tom
    Tom says:

    Can u possibly get her into the vet asap at Ohio state or one of the other universities where the right surgeon exists ? 11/9 is a LONG ways away…

    I’d be happy to get you the plane ticket if you can get in there as soon as possible…

    Please let me know if I can help.


  5. boulevardier
    boulevardier says:

    Ema’s story makes me cry but odd as it sounds they are hopeful tears because I hope she pulls through. She looks like such a sweetheart and deserves the very best chance to live. She is with the right person to fight for her, too, Carol. Please keep up the fight and let us know if there is anything at all we can do to help.

  6. Dana
    Dana says:

    I am about 20min away from Angell Animal Medical Center and 1 hour from Tufts University in Massachusetts. Both have great cardiology depts. I have seen several of the “Balloon” procedures done but never the graph procedure. They still might do it though. Let me know if you need anything.

  7. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    I was sooo hoping for good news today. Sigh… Any chance Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston has the type of specialist Ema needs? I know it’s a lot further away, but I’ve had two separate pet emergencies in which their doctors and surgeons have saved my boys. I’d help any way I can – transport leg, place to stay, moral support. In the meantime, Ema and you are in my thoughts and heart, with good wishes speeding your way.

  8. frogdogz
    frogdogz says:

    Hi all, and thanks for the good wishes. I’m a bit burned out and bummed out today – I have a cold, on top of it all, so I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself and for Ema.

    I am basically counting on Dr. Bisson to know who is the best surgeon for Ema, if indeed she is not the one. Apparently there are very few veterinary Cardiac Surgeons in North America, and even fewer who can perform this procedure. They’re also a close knit community, and Dr. Bisson will know who is the best choice for Ema.

    Ema is, at the moment, doing pretty well as long as we can keep her calm. We don’t like having to stop her from running and playing, but we know it’s saving her life, so we do it. She still gets time during the day to play with Jake, and she gets TONS of lap time and snuggles (in addition to sleeping coiled on my shoulder, like a small fawn colored mink stole).

    Believe me, if we need to get Ema to Purdue or any other Veterinary School in North America, I will NOT hesitate to ask for help. It will devastate me to have to hand her over to someone else for that part of her journey, but if it saves her life, I will do it willingly.

    At the moment, good wishes and healing thoughts are the best help we can have.

  9. Maggie MacLellan
    Maggie MacLellan says:

    How about a HUMAN Cardiology surgeon? They MIGHT be willing to do it if they can have students watch/assist? There are MORE Human Cardiology Surgeons-and, I am sure SOME specialize in PEDIATRIC cases (Which would be the same size as a Frenchie!) Worth a shot!
    Animals have been the guinea pigs for humans forever, time for some payback!
    Worth thinking about!

  10. Elissa O'Sullivan
    Elissa O'Sullivan says:

    If Ema needs to have the procedure done at OSU, and needs to stay in the area for follow up care, I am here in Columbus and would be happy to have Ema come stay with us. My work schedule is flexible and so running her to Vet appointments is not an issue. Contact me if you are interested.

    Elissa O’Sullivan,
    Animal Behaviorist

  11. Anna
    Anna says:

    I am deeply saddened upon reading Ema’s situation. She needs medical attention right away. I hope she gets better in the coming days. All my prayers for you Ema.

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