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UC Davis Vets Use Ventilator to Save Goat with Pneumonia

December 14, 2011

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Marty LaPlante, at left, and Gabby say their goodbyes to student Cameron Thompson, Dr. Rosie Busch and emergency/critical care specialist Dr. Steven Epstein December 12, 2011.

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Gabby was cared for by a team of specialists including Rosie Busch, a second-year resident veterinarian in food animal medicine.

December 14, 2011

Dr. Steven Epstein, one of the faculty of the Small Animal Emergency and Critical Care Service at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital in Davis, received an unusual request December 7 from the hospital’s Large Animal Clinic.

Normally, Dr. Epstein works with small pets such as dogs and cats. However, a goat from Glen Ellen with severe pneumonia had been admitted to the Large Animal Clinic barn the evening before and was not breathing well despite treatment with antibiotics and supplemental oxygen.

The 13-year-old Nigerian Dwarf, a pet named Gabby, had such trouble breathing that even extra oxygen prescribed for her was not getting into her lungs. Dr. Epstein discussed the matter with Dr. Rosie Busch, a second-year resident specializing in large animal medicine who had taken on the case.

Dr. Busch had talked by phone with the animal’s owner, Marty LaPlante, and was ready when the client arrived from Sonoma County with an exhausted Gabby, whose lungs were barely moving by the time she reached Davis. At one point, her respiration rate was 120 breaths per minute – the normal rate for her species is 20-25 breaths per minute.

Drs. Epstein, Busch and a team of specialists made a fast decision. They anesthetized and placed Gabby on a ventilator, a machine that could breathe for her. This is first time that they had performed such a procedure on a companion food animal. (The teaching hospital has five ventilators used by its five critical care experts to help small companion animals and foals in respiratory distress.)

The ventilator took over the work of Gabby’s lungs, helping her breathe through the night and allowing her body to rest. After about 18 hours, the veterinarians removed the breathing tube, and she was breathing again on her own. By Friday afternoon, her gums and tongue had returned to their normal pink color, showing that oxygen was reaching her organs once again. The veterinarians discharged Gabby December 12; Ms. LaPlante and Gabby’s own veterinarian, Dr. Peter Ahern, will continue her care at home.

At the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, veterinary experts treat more than 30,000 large and small animal patients each year while teaching veterinary students essential clinical skills and training resident veterinarians in more than 30 specialties. Faculty members work in concert to handle everything from routine preventive services to the most complex cases. Veterinarians throughout the state may refer their patients to UC Davis for support with difficult cases like Gabby’s. 

For the veterinarians based in the teaching hospital, challenging cases are a frequent occurrence. Nevertheless, the extraordinary measures taken and the animal's rapid recovery after such an illness made an impression on staff and students alike, many of whom visited Gabby often in her barn stall and said their goodbyes on the day she left.

As for Ms. LaPlante, she describes Gabby's recovery as a "holiday miracle," stating, "I did not think that she would make the trip. We could not be more grateful to the entire team of doctors and students who rallied to Gabby's aid. Gabby was really good on the ride home and jumped out of the Jeep and began eating my roses when we got home -- which for once I was glad to see."