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Born with rare birth defect, German Shepherd pup received life-saving surgery

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Posted at 1:59 PM, Aug 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-03 18:18:23-04

FALLSTON, Md.  — Amid an extreme heat wave in Harford County, animal control officers brought in a stray German Shepherd puppy to the Humane Society of Harford County (HSHC).

Named "Rett," he couldn't keep any of his food down and was arching his back. Concerned that the dog had a possible bowel obstruction, x-rays were taken and it was revealed the dog had a rare birth defect.

At the Pleasantville Animal Hospital, Dr. Michael Gounaris ordered a barium study. Barium is a contrast material which is opaque and it appears as bright white against a black backdrop on an x-ray film. This makes it easy to the gastro-intestinal tract within the abdomen.

Shortly after swallowing the barium, it stopped and collected in a balloon-like shape in Rett's esophagus, a condition known as Megaesophagus.

This condition alone is not uncommon, but in Rett's case this is very rare. He suffers from a birth defect where a branch off the aorta that would normally dissolve at birth, stays wrapped around the esophagus.

This defect happens primarily in German Shepherds and in about 0.01 to 0.1 percent of the general population.

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This condition requires a surgical specialist and surgery should be performed as soon as possible. Since Rett was a stray, it was impossible to determine his exact age.

Most veterinarians in the Baltimore area had never seen this condition, much less performed the surgery. HSHC also learned that cost estimates were close to $8,000.

However, an experienced surgeon, located in Georgia, was contacted to perform the surgery.

Dr. Stephen Arbitter has successfully performed the surgery twice at a fraction of the cost twice throughout his career.

After three hours, Rett made it through surgery, as announced by Dr. Arbitter.

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His esophagus is functioning and allowing food to pass into his stomach. Without this surgery, Rett's life would have been shortened.

The dog's main goal now is to start gaining weight and after enough recovery time, Rett will move back to Maryland.