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2-Year-Old American Pit Bull Terrier Beats Paralysis

October 16, 2009

It was my very first night on clinical call as a senior veterinary student. I finished my treatments at 9 pm. At 9:05 I received the page.

Maggie was a 2-year old tan, chubby, red-nose American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) with white paws. She had been sleeping on the sofa, yawned, stretched, and rolled over, only to fall off the sofa! When she tried to get up, she discovered she was paralyzed in all four legs!

I was called to assist the resident-on-call. The myelogram (x-rays of the spinal canal after it has been infused with a liquid that shows bright white on the x-rays) showed compression of Maggie’s spinal cord from a ruptured intervertebral disc at C2-C3. She needed emergency neck surgery is she was ever hoping to walk again.

Her parents immediately agreed to a ventral slot surgery. In this procedure, Maggie was laid on her back and the surgeon approached her spinal canal from the front of her neck. Once the canal was identified, the offending ruptured disc was cleaned out and the pressure relieved from the spinal cord. My job, as the student, was to apply suction to the surgical site do the resident surgeon could see what she was doing.

The surgery went great. The spinal cord looked good. Maggie’s vital signs were perfect. Then, as we finished, we took Maggie off of the anesthesia. There was a problem.

Maggie could no longer breathe! Her spinal injury, at C2-C3 was right where the nerves to the diaphragm for breathing are born. Maggie could breathe before the surgery, but not after.

We kept Maggie on the ventilator, while the resident surgeon had the unenviable job of calling Maggie’s parents with the news. I listened in order to learn how these difficult calls could be handled.

The situation was outlined. Then the questions began. I heard the answers.

“Well, yes, we have seen this before.”


“A Doberman Pinscher.”

“Yes, she walked.”

“About 10%”

That was all Maggie’s parents needed to hear. They agreed to keep Maggie on the ventilator in order to keep her alive while her spinal cord inflammation had a chance to heal.

Maggie was set up on a treatment table in the middle of the intensive care unit. She was awake, but could not move below her neck. She actually could move her neck, and she chewed through several breathing tubes a day in her boredom and creativity!

At 5 days into the ventilator therapy, at 2 in the afternoon, I remember Maggie’s parents standing next to her face, talking to her. All of a sudden her hind legs kicked together and she launched through the air! Luckily, her mom just held out her arms and caught her.

After that day, Maggie’s tail tip wagged and she kicked occasionally. From days 7-10, we weaned her off of the ventilator in order to let her breathing muscles build up their strength.

Maggie went home, walking, 10 days after her emergency back surgery.

I saw her one more time six months later. She had figured out how to run, although it was a little crooked. She gave a big, wide APBT smile and took off without a look back!

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