No 'Last Goodbye' for Cello: 5-Hour Surgery Saved Dog's Life

dog pets sitting on the couch
dog pets sitting on the couch

FRIDAY, Sept. 25, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Risky, groundbreaking surgery saved a 12-year-old dog that had an aggressive tumor and was given only weeks to live, University of Florida veterinarians report.

Cello, a female goldendoodle, had a rare tumor that caused a life-threatening obstruction of her major veins.

"This was one of the most advanced cases of tumor invasion that any of us had seen, and there was a very high chance that Cello could have died during surgery," said Dr. Elizabeth Maxwell, a clinical assistant professor in surgical oncology.

She was a member of the team that treated Cello in May. The dog is now back home in St. Petersburg, Fla.

"However, without surgery, she would have certainly died in a couple of weeks. With the combined efforts of all the specialists -- critical care, internal medicine, radiology, anesthesia and surgical oncology -- we were able to successfully remove the tumor and hopefully give Cello a long and happy life," Maxwell said in a university news release.

Cello's owner, Joan Garbutt, first saw trouble while giving her beloved pet a bath -- one of Cello's back legs was swollen in the knee area, so Garbutt sent a picture to her veterinarian, Dr. Brett Zielinski, who saw Cello that day.

When several days of antibiotic therapy did not reduce the swelling, an ultrasound revealed a blood clot. Zielinski recommended that Cello be taken to the University of Florida.

"I drove her to the ER in Gainesville that night," said Garbutt, a retired Air Force colonel who adopted Cello as an 8-week-old puppy.

The diagnosis was dire: A CT scan revealed that Cello had a large pheochromocytoma, a tumor of the adrenal gland that was invading the largest vessel in her abdomen, blocking most of the blood flow from her hind limbs and abdomen to the heart.

This type of tumor often causes episodes of heart rhythm problems, high blood pressure, fainting episodes, weakness, blindness and sudden death.

Still, Cello's doctors thought she had a chance of surviving and recommended a groundbreaking operation, so Garbutt gave her blessing.

They sent Cello home with Garbutt on medications to help prevent some of the known complications.

"It was a very long week at home," Garbutt said in the release. "Cello was very worn out and sick, and at one point I did not think she would make it through Mother's Day.

"I dropped her off [at the hospital] on that Friday morning with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes, wondering if this was our last goodbye," Garbutt remembered.

The complex surgery performed on Cello involved removal of the right adrenal gland with the associated tumor, removal of the right kidney and cutting open the major abdominal vein to remove the tumor that was obstructing blood flow.

The five-hour operation carried a number of risks -- severe bleeding, heart rhythm disruptions, dramatic blood pressure changes, kidney damage and blood clots: It all added up to a 50% risk of death, according to Maxwell.

But Cello slowly recovered over the next few months and at her last checkup in August, she was in good health, her doctors said.

"She is doing great, free of clinical signs and all medications have been discontinued," and she "is now a completely normal and happy dog," said Cello's lead surgeon, Dr. Carlos Souza, an assistant professor of surgical oncology.

Garbutt had high praise for her treasured dog's caregivers.

"Cello has been there through my hardest days of service with a toy in her mouth and a snuggle," she said. "Thank you is not enough."

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on pheochromocytoma in people.

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