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Pennsylvania dog had $50G life-saving heart surgery in France

A Pennsylvania Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is healing nicely after being flown to France for life-saving surgery that came with a hefty price tag.

The dog, Sophie, of Levittown in Bucks County, needed a repair to her mitral valve.

The dog was diagnosed six years ago with a heart murmur that eventually became mitral valve endocardiosis — a genetic type of heart disease responsible for about 75% of all canine cardiac issues. The deadly disease is degenerative for the heart valves, weakening them and allowing a backflow of blood to course into the heart, forcing the muscle to work harder to pump it back out and through the body.

“I could not accept that this was a long-term death sentence for her,” Sophie’s owner, Jeanne Navratil, told Philly.com. “She’s my baby.”

Mitral valve repair surgery is common in the U.S. for humans, but the procedure is not available for pups. The surgery requires a bypass machine and a large team of doctors including anesthetists, perfusionists, and a critical care staff to monitor patient pooches post-surgery — all of which cost tens of thousands of dollars.

“At some point the disease gets ahead of us,” Beth Bossbaly, Sophie’s veterinarian, told the news site.

But this was unacceptable for Navratil and she found a team on Instagram, through the Mighty Hearts Project account, with the capabilities to perform Sophie’s surgery — in France. A group of veterinary surgeons from Japan led by Masami Uechi routinely travels to France to operate on dogs, and they made the trip this past November for Sophie.

“I just couldn’t take that answer that there is nothing you can do,” said Navratil, a retired bank manager. “There just had to be something.”

A U.S. vet’s sign-off, $ 50,000 and many pet-friendly travel accommodations later, Sophie’s surgery was underway. During the procedure, Sophie needed two blood transfusions and also suffered a urinary-tract infection and three blood clots while recuperating.

The 10-year-old is currently following the strict, three-month-long recovery protocol after her surgery — no jumping, no dog parks — and is starting to return to her normal self. Two of her blood clots are no longer visible and her heart is beating regularly.

“It’s an improvement,” Navratil said. “We are going in the right direction (and) her quality of life is pretty darn good.”


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