Patient Stories / Case Studies


Photo Hank

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It’s said that break-ups are hardest on the kids, or in this case, the dog. In late 2012, Hank, a 5-year-old German shorthaired pointer (GSP), lost his home due to a break-up. The NorCal GSP Rescue in Menlo Park, California took him in and quickly got him some much-needed help. That initial help, though, wasn’t a new home. It was a new perspective of the world. With the exception of seeing some lights and shadows, Hank was almost completely blind due to cataracts in both eyes.

Hank was brought to Eye Care For Animals in Santa Rosa, where he was deemed a candidate for cataract surgery. Eye Care referred Hank to the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis for the surgery. Ophthalmologists there confirmed Eye Care’s diagnosis, and were confident they could restore a significant amount of his vision. An appointment for surgery was set.

Cataract is an opacification (clouding) of the lens of the eye, and is not, itself, a painful condition, but can have some painful consequences such as glaucoma. Cataracts can occur in either or both eyes, and at any age. They usually begin as small, white opacities. Because the rest of the lens is clear in the early stages, the patient will be able to see around these opacities. However, if the opacity becomes large enough, it may render the entire lens opaque, and vision may be completely lost.

There are many causes of cataracts: genetics (inherited), diabetes mellitus, intraocular inflammation (uveitis), and trauma to name a few. There is no reliable way of preventing most cataracts, and medical therapy still is not available. The only possible treatment available is surgical removal of the cataract.

Before cataract surgery can be considered, the retina must be shown to be normal. This can be determined by an electroretinogram (ERG) and often an ocular ultrasound should be done. The ERG tests the electrical function of the retina, like the electrocardiogram tests the heart. The ocular ultrasound assesses the position of the retina and specifically detects retinal detachment. If the retina is not normal, cataract removal would not be recommended because the patient would not be able to see. If the retina is normal, surgery can usually be done.

In Hank’s case, his retina was deemed to be normal, so UC Davis ophthalmologists proceeded with surgery. The cataracts in Hank’s left eye was there for so long that the lens was completely calcified, making the surgery more challenging. Hank’s right eye proved to be a routine cataract surgery. Overall, the surgeons deemed the two surgeries successful, and Hank was able to see again.

A recent study at UC Davis looked into the success rate of cataract surgeries. The study was led by a senior veterinary student under the supervision of the UC Davis faculty. The study focused on owners of dogs which had undergone cataract surgery within the last five years. It revealed that 81 percent of clients were so satisfied with the outcome of their dogs’ cataract surgeries that they would have the procedure done again if a second dog of theirs developed cataracts.

“We have so many other success stories just like Hank,” states Dr. David Maggs, ophthalmologist and professor of veterinary ophthalmology in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

“It’s very rewarding to see our work change the lives of so many dogs and their owners,” adds ophthalmology resident Dr. Stephanie Moore. “When Hank first came to us, he was a shy and timid dog, but now he’s as playful as a puppy again.”

“The entire car ride home from UC Davis, he just stared out the window,” states Cheryl Warner, Foster and Volunteer Coordinator for NorCal GSP Rescue. “He was, no doubt, amazed at all the sights he hadn't been able to see in years.”

Hank has since been adopted into a permanent home. His owners plan to continue to use UC Davis for his eye care follow-ups, as surgery is only the beginning of the process of eliminating cataracts. Proper recovery from a cataract surgery is not difficult, but, in order for the surgery to remain successful, does require regular examinations and a regimented eye drop routine.

Hank’s new family reports that he’s a very happy, healthy dog thanks to being able to see again. In April, they brought him back to the veterinary hospital for a re-check appointment.

“Hank’s eyes are healing well,” states Dr. Moore. “We performed a routine re-check, and Hank’s eyes are open and comfortable with no inflammation and good pressure. We are very pleased with his recovery.”

“Everybody at NorCal GSP was rooting for Hank,” continues Warner. “Being only 5-years-old, he has so much more life ahead of him. We are extremely excited about this outcome and grateful for everything UC Davis provided.”

Photo: Toots

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Toots is an English bulldog from Reno who simply loves life - and what a life it has already been!

Toots was born with a series of eye problems that were painful and could potentially affect her vision. So, at just a few months of age, she was referred to the VMTH, where surgery to correct her congenital eye problems was recommended. However, it was also discovered that Toots had some other serious problems involving the heart and lungs that made general anesthesia a lot more challenging. Worse still, Toots had a passion for eating and she had a fridge magnet in her stomach, and she had a hernia! 

Toots' eye problems required surgery to cure them and yet, like many bulldogs, she had a history of difficulties under anesthesia and her heart and lung problems made this even worse.   She was just the sort of patient for the VMTH, with its devoted team of ophthalmologists working in collaboration with experts in imaging (radiology), anesthesia, endoscopy, surgery, and critical care.

All the necessary specialists from all the appropriate services worked together to get Toots as healthy as possible prior to surgery, they then placed her under general anesthesia, removed the foreign bodies from her stomach and performed corrective surgery for her eyes and hernia, before transferring her to the intensive care unit for careful postoperative monitoring. Toots recovered wonderfully and continues to live a happy and healthy life in Reno visiting the Ophthalmology Service for regular care of her eye conditions.

For most pet owners, that would have been enough, but for Toots' owner, Leslie, this was just the beginning of their relationship with the Ophthalmology Service. Leslie was so grateful for the care she had received that they started The Toots Foundation to support the activities and programs of the Ophthalmology Service.

The Toots Foundation supports a wide range of current and future priorities in Ophthalmology including financial assistance for clients who cannot afford their animals' ophthalmic care, advanced training in ophthalmology, new equipment, textbooks, research projects, clinical trials, and renovation of facilities.

One of Leslie's main goals was to provide a foundation upon which other donors could build. She hoped that her donation would encourage others to make contributions.

As Leslie said, "every little bit helps."