You Don’t Need to Travel to Japan for Heart Surgery—But This Cavalier Did

Earlier this year, one Cavalier spaniel parent did the most for her beloved dog, Remy. During a routine check-up in September of 2017, it was discovered that 8-year-old Remy had a heart murmur. What had seemed like a minor cough revealed a severely enlarged heart. Not uncommon for the breed, it appeared that Remy had end-state Mitral Valve Disease. This type of degenerative heart failure, as I’ve noted, is fatal. There is no cure, and while medication might alleviate some symptoms, Remy was expected to die within six months to a year.

That is, unless you have the time, funds, and patience to visit the only veterinarian in the world who could help. Remy’s mom discovered that a Japanese veterinarian, who worked out of Yokohama, Japan, had devoted his life to one malady. Dr. Masami Uechi had his team, using a cardiopulmonary bypass machine, had performed more than 400 mitral valve repair surgeries. The procedure does not cure MVD, but it can significantly slow the progression of the disease and greatly improve the animal’s quality of life. If Remy met the eligibility criteria, she would have a 95% chance of success with this operation. If the surgery was a success, she would likely die of old age before MVD, likely living another 2-6 years.

Remy’s parents decided to take the plunge. Japan, apparently, requires rabies vaccines within a prescribed period followed by a 6-month quarantine. Pre-surgery testing would cost around $3,000. Plus, there were other complications for Remy; she had a rare blood type, and an ultrasound revealed an abdominal mass that turned out to be benign. Regardless, her parents persisted. The surgery was scheduled for June 5. The family spent thirty days in Japan, and the dog’s parents borrowed from the 401-K to pay for the surgery, travel, and related costs.

Unsurprisingly, the surgery was a success. By her one-month post-op cardiology visit in New Jersey, Remy’s heart had decreased in size, and all other minor complications that had popped up during the recovery period had subsided. While I don’t recommend you fly to Japan to extend your dog’s life by a few years (I know, it’s harsh, but wow that’s a lot of money!), I applaud these devoted Cavalier parents!

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