Lucky Leo: Michigan Pooch Saved by Open Heart Surgery

Open heart surgeries for dogs can be life-saving alternatives when other remedies fail.

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Lucky Leo: Michigan Pooch Saved by Open Heart Surgery

Australian Shepherds like Leo (not pictured) live roughly 14 years. However, the breed can suffer from genetic eye defects as well as heart disease and cancer, which can radically shorten their lives. (Photo: Vicky Kasala Productions/Getty)

Leo, a two-year-old Australian Shepherd from Ann Arbor, Michigan, is one lucky pup. He’s also a medical pioneer.

Leo had a life-threatening condition that, even with medication, would have significantly altered his lifespan, the Michigan State University News reports. The unlucky pooch had a defective heart valve that meant fluid accumulated in his lungs. His loved ones decided that open heart surgery was the best method. As such, Leo became the first dog to undergo open heart surgery at Michigan State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.  

Leo’s doctor, Augusta Pelosi, a cardiac surgeon at the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, has since successfully performed the rare procedure on two other dogs. 

“Our service provides an alternative that can save lives,” said Pelosi who joined the teaching hospital in 2008. “Medications can be used to treat a variety of cardiac conditions, but sometimes they only do so much and have side effects.”

While Leo responded well to his heart medication, his condition would have progressed and cut his life expectancy. After surgery, Leo used a mechanical ventilator for one night, but a week later he returned home. He has since been barking, playing, and going for short walks.

“There is a perception that heart surgery does not work for animals,” Pelosi said. "In human cardiac surgeries, this perception also existed many years ago. We have the need, we have the skills, and we have the ability to do it successfully.”

Pelosi stressed that surgery is not an alternative to medical treatment or interventional procedures, but "is an option that should be offered to our patients when it is the superior treatment option or other options have failed."