Pooch gets pacemaker

2008-04-18 00:00

Rupert, a watermelon-loving Staffordshire bull terrier, has been given a high-tech lifeline.

In what is thought to be a first for the province, a Swiss pacemaker made for humans and valued at R40 000 was implanted into 12-year-old Rupert by a Howick vet yesterday to correct a heart condition that, if left untreated, would have proved fatal.

The procedure has only rarely been carried out on dogs in South Africa before.

The story of Rupert’s ordeal began on Tuesday, when he collapsed suddenly and his concerned owners, Rob and Bev McKenzie, rushed him from their Rosetta home to Dr Martin de Scalley at the Midlands Veterinary Clinic in Howick.

After blood tests and an ultrasound, De Scalley diagnosed Rupert as having a heart block. He set about trying to find a pacemaker for the hound and that was when Johannesburg-based Medtronic heard of his plight and stepped in.

“The top of the heart sends an impulse to tell the bottom part of the heart when to contract, and so synchronise the heart beat. When the nerve between them breaks down, there’s a block,” explained De Scalley. “The pacemaker corrects this by sending the impulse needed for normal heart function.”

Rupert had gone from his playful, energetic self to being subdued as his heartbeat slowed from its normal 120 beats per minute to just 40. “We needed a miracle, and we got one,” said Bev McKenzie.

Moving fast because of Rupert’s deteriorating condition, Wendy Watton, a qualified ICU nurse from Medtronic, flew down from Johannesburg, bearing the valuable pacemaker and guidance for the vet on how to implant it.

Rupert was given a final ECG and a shave, which he did not relish, before being put under anaesthetic.

De Scalley had warned the McKenzies that there was a chance Rupert might not survive the procedure, and it was with heavy hearts that they bid him farewell.

“We don’t know if it’s a death sentence or not, but it’s his only chance. Without it he’s a goner,” said Rob.

At one tense time during the procedure, Rupert’s heart rate dropped to just 22 beats per minute, but the dog rallied and pulled through.

The two-hour operation was a success. “The pacemaker was fitted under Rupert’s neck muscle … and the ventricular lead glided into position under Dr de Scalley’s steady hand,” said Watton.

Rupert had to spend 48 hours recuperating before he got active, but from now on, it’s a dog’s life.

Speaking to Weekend Witness before the operation, the anxious couple described Rupert as having a “double dose of personality” and being a “Staffie of note”.

A thoroughbred Rupert may be, but his quirks set him apart from the breed. His favourite foods are watermelon (without the pips), avocado and banana.

At 12, he is still obsessed with shoes and grabs and runs off with them, keeping his owners fit as they chase after him. “He talks all the time, but since he’s been ill, he’s stopped,” said Bev. “Any problem he has, he tells you about.”

The McKenzies yesterday expressed their gratitude to Medtronic for their assistance. “We are so relieved he’s survived.”

All going well with his recovery, Rupert should soon be home playing with his playmate, boerbul Daisy.

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