Healing woman’s best friend

Naples veterinarian performs rare brain surgery on part-time resident’s service dog

A friend, a family member, a service dog — all in one 2-and-a-half-pound furry package — was nearly lost due to a common misdiagnosis of what appeared to be seizures to her owner.

They weren’t true seizures, but that was just one of many things learned in the process of saving this tiny rare dog.

Yuppy (pronounced you-pea) looks like a Chihuahua, only she is smaller and with what look like little pony tails or pig tails, as long hair flows from just the tips of her ears.

Now there is a healing surgical scar from a brain surgery between those pig tails. Yuppy, 3, underwent the rare surgery at Animal Specialty Hospital of Florida, located in East Naples.

“It was successful,” says her owner Pernille Albrechtsen as she lifts Yuppy from a hand bag and gives her a kiss on the tip of her small nose. “I just couldn’t lose her. I love her. Of course, I love her. I also need her.”

Yuppy is a service dog, alerting Albrechtsen, who is hearing impaired, to things such as her ringing cell phone left across the room or a stranger close behind her.

Albrechtsen proudly takes Yuppy’s certificate from the U.S. Service Dog Registry out of Yuppy’s bag.

“She can come to Publix with me,” Albrechtsen said.

Yuppy modeled for Haagen Dazs and her family’s international fitness business, Concept 1010, which has a location in North Naples. She remains their mascot.

Yuppy is a rare breed, a Russian toy terrier. Yuppy weighs only about two pounds and about a year ago she began having tremors or episodes of shaking. These episodes became more severe, where she sat wide-eyed and shaking until they became so frequent she was having them daily, said Albrechtsen, a part-time North Naples and Germany resident.

It was time to look for answers, but few came at first.

She took Yuppy to her vet in Koppenheigen where Yuppy went into heart failure during an MRI and a proper diagnosis was missed.

Yuppy was prescribed anti-seizure medicine and returned to the U.S. with Albrechtsen, but they only had pet insurance in the United Kingdom.

“It was getting worse. She (Yuppy) would just walk and then throw herself on the floor. Like she was saying, ‘It just hurts so badly. I can’t take it anymore,’” Albrechtsen recalled. This was in October or November.

“I lost five family members in 2011, I can’t lose her. Dogs can just die of pain,” Albrechtsen said.

As Yuppy’s “seizures” began to increase to multiple times a day, Albrechtsen reconsidered attempting another MRI. The only veterinarian facility on the Florida Gulf Coast with the necessary high-field MRI is the Animal Specialty Hospital of Florida in Naples.

“Yuppy happened to be in the right place at the right time,” said Michelle Carnes, a neurosurgeon at Animal Specialty Hospital.

Carnes is one of the only certified neurologists in the world trained not only to diagnose Yuppy properly, but to perform the needed brain surgery.

“All Dr. Michelle did was touch Yuppy between the ears and she knew immediately what it was,” Albrechtsen recalled.

An MRI confirmed Carnes was correct about the significance of the yelp that Yuppy let out when Carnes palpated behind Yuppy’s ears.

What Yuppy has is very similar to a condition in humans where the humans report strange sensory changes, such as “double vision” and “pins and needles” in the hands, arms and shoulders, Carnes said.

The condition in animals is called Chiari-like malformation/syringomyelia. People often refer to it as SM or CM/SM, Carnes said.

“Ms. Albrechtsen refers to seizures, but they’re not actually seizures. A different part of the brain is affected,” Carnes explained.

There are some dogs who have true seizures with this condition as it progresses and begins to affect other parts of the brain, she said.

What is occurring is that the brainstem is compressed due to the cerebellum, or back part of the brain, being herniated, or moved away from its proper position. Also, fluid accumulates in the cervical spinal cord, Carnes said.

The brain surgery Carnes preformed on Yuppy in December is called a suboccipital craniectomy, which means a surgical removal of part of the cranium.

Though it’s rarely diagnosed, what Yuppy has is likely more common than people know, said Carnes.

It’s been reported the most in King Charles cavalier spaniels and one of the common symptoms is scratching near the ears, which these spaniels are known for doing anyway due to a high prevalence of ear infections, Carnes said. Other small breeds have also been reported to have SM/CM as it is believed to be caused, in part, by a genetic malformation in the small skull.

These breeds have included miniature poodles, Chihuahuas, Yorky terriers and Pomeranians, among others.

“It can only be definitively diagnosed with an MRI, which most vets do not have and getting a dog into a human facility after hours can be challenging,” Carnes said.

The condition was only first recognized in animals about a decade ago, so many vets don’t know about it. There aren’t many vet neurologists and even fewer have ever performed the surgery.

“When I told Yuppy’s vet in Koppenheigen about the diagnosis, she started crying and said, ‘Oh no, they’ll probably have to put Yuppy to sleep,’” Albrechtsen recalled. “I said, ‘No, they said they can do an operation.’ One of the best things to come of this is that the doctors are talking to one another and sharing what they know.”

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features