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A Chance at a Full Life From a Faraway Place

For Fernando the French bulldog, the road to a normal life started with a 3,300-mile trip.

Last month, in Lima, Peru, Fernando (Fern for short) was referred to veterinary cardiologist Ricardo Martinez for evaluation of a heart murmur.

The diagnosis was grim: severe pulmonic stenosis, a congenital heart defect that occurs when the pulmonic valve, located between the right heart and lungs, is too narrow and doesn’t open completely, often leading to eventual heart failure.

The optimal treatment is a balloon valvuloplasty, during which a balloon catheter is placed into the heart through the jugular vein of the neck and positioned across the abnormal valve. The balloon is then inflated to open the valve.

Without the procedure, Fern would have likely developed complications within a few years. With the procedure, he could have a normal life expectancy.

The hitch: The procedure is not available in Peru.

“The owner told us that Fern is very attached to his 5-year-old son and he wanted to everything possible to help him,” says Martinez. “For the moment in Peru, we only have the option of pharmacological treatment for this disease. The time of life is very short in these cases.”

So Martinez got to work — and that meant reaching out to the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM).

cardio_fernMartinez got in touch with Teresa DeFrancesco, a CVM professor of cardiology and ICU critical care at the NC State Veterinary Hospital. DeFrancesco, whose mother was Peruvian, had met Martinez through a mutual friend over a decade ago. They hit it off right away because of their shared interest in cardiology and now frequently correspond via email about cases. Martinez has come to the CVM twice for extended visits, observing as an international clinician and mentored by DeFrancesco.

“He knew this dog would be a candidate for the procedure,” says DeFrancesco, who visits family in Lima every few years. “He emailed me the echocardiogram images and video and we confirmed the diagnosis.”

Fern, accompanied by his primary care vet, Claudia Montesinos flew to Raleigh and two days later arrived for surgery at the CVM (in case you’re wondering, Montesinos calls him a wonderful flier).

Fern’s response to the procedure was excellent, and after 2 days of recuperation he was on the plane back to Lima.

“We were all thrilled for the opportunity to help,” says Sandra Tou, a clinical assistant professor of cardiology who performed Fern’s procedure.  “We do our best to ensure that each animal that comes through our doors has the best chance at living a full and happy life. For that reason, we will always welcome animals from near and far.”

“For me, North Carolina State University is the best place for this kind of procedure,” says Martinez

Martinez says Fern’s owners — and especially their young son — are extremely grateful for the work of CVM clinicians. On his Facebook page, Martinez shared a CVM Facebook post of photos of Fern post-operation, which attracted dozens of “likes” and comments” from colleagues and friends in Peru.

“For me, North Carolina State University is the best place for this kind of procedure,” says Martinez, who hopes to soon get the equipment needed for this kind of procedure in his own clinic. “I know the great experience of its staff and vets. They are the best.”

DeFrancesco will continue to work with Martinez. She says they learn from each other. And for her, it was very rewarding to help a dog and its family from Peru because of her connections there.

“Peru is a county that love dogs. You see them everywhere. But the level of veterinary medicine is low,” she says. “I feel that my helping Dr. Martinez and others in Peru that consult with me are my little contributions to help improve the level of veterinary medicine in Peru.”

~Jordan Bartel/NC State Veterinary Medicine