Rare brain surgery performed to save beloved dog

Yukon the dog is petted by a veterinary technician.
Fourth-year veterinary student Parker Cendejas waits with Yukon during a post-surgery follow-up appointment at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

As the minutes ticked into hours, Laura Bloomfield nervously waited for even the smallest of updates from surgeons at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Only a week earlier, Yukon, her 7-year-old heeler-shepherd mix, was her usual rambunctious self. Now she was clinging to life as a team of veterinary specialists performed a risky and rare emergency brain surgery that they hoped would save her life.

“This probably totally sounds like horse malarkey, but Yukon, honestly, is the sweetest dog in the entire world, and I always tell people I do not deserve her,” Bloomfield said. “She is also the most determined little creature — if there’s a will, there’s a way for that dog. I was really confident in her doctors, but I was very concerned because it was such a dire situation.” 

Yukon was initially brought to WSU days before in an attempt to diagnose the cause of unexplained collapsing episodes that resembled seizures. A heart condition was suspected, but all testing came back normal. Stumped, Bloomfield returned home with Yukon. 

“The following day, Yukon was found on the floor completely nonresponsive — she almost looked like she was dead,” neurology resident Dr. Clifford Petit said. “She was brought back to the hospital and then we determined Yukon had something neurological going on.”

An MRI revealed what appeared to be a large abscess on Yukon’s brain. Surgery to remove the abscess was scheduled for the following day; however, Yukon’s condition deteriorated overnight, prompting an emergency craniectomy early in the morning. 

Then, for Bloomfield, the waiting began.

Performed by Petit and neurologist Dr. Annie Chen-Allen with the assistance of neurology resident Dr. Carlos Valerio-Lopez, the procedure involved removing a large portion of Yukon’s skull to access the brain. Once the bone was removed, the team discovered the abscess was actually a buildup of a malodorous fluid that was placing pressure on the brain. The team flushed the fluid and removed a portion of diseased meninges, a membrane surrounding and protecting the brain. A synthetic membrane was placed over the exposed portion of Yukon’s brain for protection.

After five hours, Bloomfield finally got the message she had been waiting for. 

“The surgery went well, but now we were worried about how she would do afterward,” Petit said. 

It would be another 36 hours before Yukon started to pull out of a vegetative state. Slowly, she continued to improve.

“By the time she was discharged more than a week later, she was showing marked improvement,” Petit said. 

A portion of the meninges was submitted for testing, but the cause of Yukon’s condition was not identified. 

“We were surprised — testing showed no evidence of bacteria, fungus or infection, just inflammation,” Petit said. “We still started her on antibiotics just in case it was a manifestation of an infectious agent we were not able to identify.”

While there is still some risk the symptoms could return, so far, Yukon is thriving.

“She is 100%,” Bloomfield said. “You wouldn’t know that she had gone through any of this.”

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