Texas A&M vets save kitten’s life with rare procedure
Like most stories in veterinary medicine, Pinky’s begins with a visit to the vet. The twist, however, is that the visit wasn’t even for him – the domestic long-haired kitten just happened to be attending his brother’s appointment when their vet noticed he had a rare condition.
This chance sighting was the first of several happy events that would ultimately save Pinky’s life.
Pinky came to the Texas A&M Small Animal Teaching Hospital (SATH) at three months of age with pectus excavatum, a condition that threatened his long-term survival and ability to function as a normal cat.
“Pectus excavatum is a congenital disease in which the sternum does not form properly,” said Dr. Chanel Berns, intern in first year at SATH. “Because the sternum is directed inward toward the chest cavity, it may affect these patients’ hearts and their ability to expand their lungs.”
Thankfully, thanks to the many people who have come together to support her care – from cat rescuers and foster homes to a vet student and clinicians – Pinky is now on her way to a full and healthy life.
The perfect match
It was a day like any other when Tammy Kidwell, founder of the Dallas-based relief organization Chat Matchersreceived a call that two stray one-month-old kittens needed her help.
She took the nearly identical kittens – named ‘Pink’ (who quickly turned into Pinky) and ‘Floyd’, in honor of the group – to a local foster family, who cared for them for several weeks and coordinated their sterilizations.
The brothers were almost ready to be adopted when Floyd started sneezing, leading their foster family to schedule a checkup with a new vet to make sure everything was okay. Luckily, Pinky decided to follow and jumped into the kennel at the last minute.
“When the vet got him out of the carrier, the first thing she did was call me and ask if she could do an x-ray,” Kidwell said.
The new vet immediately noticed that Pinky’s chest wasn’t as it should be; she could feel his sternum, or breastbone, bend toward her spine. Due to her short stature and long hair, the anomaly was difficult to detect for those unfamiliar with the condition.
The treatment involved a rare procedure that no one in the Dallas area was willing to attempt, so Kidwell made an appointment with Texas A&M and began looking for a medical foster home in the College Station area because Pinky would need weekly follow-ups at SATH. and Dallas is three and a half hours away.
“All my vet friends have reached out to their foster contacts but haven’t heard anything,” Kidwell said. “The day I drove her to A&M, I told a friend who runs a rescue group that I had nowhere to go for this cat when I picked her up later that week. She and three other relief groups all reached out to their contacts in central Texas that day, and eventually someone from A&M posted it on Facebook.
It was there, on the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences Class of 2025 Facebook group, that the post caught the attention of sophomore vet student Molly Guyette, who was more than willing to drop a game. from her summer vacation to take care of Pinky.
“It was an amazing way for all the relief groups to work together,” Kidwell said. “There were a lot of moving parts to put together and I was impressed when they all fell into place.
“Molly has been amazing, and she and her boyfriend have been great with Pinky. She even created a Google Drive just for me and her first foster home where we can see her photos every day,” Kidwell said. “I also told him, ‘You may not have been able to be in the surgery, but you’re helping him recover from something rare and seeing it first hand. As a vet, that’s okay. be useful. “
A passive result
Treatment of pectus excavatum is performed approximately twice a year in the soft tissue surgery department at SATH, making it a relatively rare procedure. Even so, Pinky’s care team – led by Clinical Professor Berns Dr. Jacqueline Davidsonand third-year resident Dr. Catrina Silveira – was convinced that they could help him.
“Pectus excavatum really shrinks the area where their heart is, and sometimes they can have trouble breathing,” Berns said. “What we’re doing in these cases is basically trying to pull the sternum down, which puts his heart in a more normal position and gives him more ability to expand his lungs and live a healthier life. “
To move the sternum into the correct position, Pinky’s team placed an external splint on his chest which was connected to his sternum by a series of sutures. By tightening these sutures in small amounts each week, they were able to gradually put the sternum in place, the same way braces straighten teeth.
This procedure should be done when the cat is no older than 3 months so that the bones can move easily. Luckily for Pinky, her condition was discovered just in time.
“With young cats like Pinky, their bones are still made up of a lot of cartilage, especially in that area, so the sternum is much more flexible,” Berns said. “Once cats get older, the cartilage in their sternum begins to mineralize, so the procedure doesn’t work as well and it’s harder to get immediate improvement.”
This immediate improvement was particularly evident in Pinky’s case, according to Berns.
“In Pinky’s first set of x-rays, before the splint was placed, he had a very small amount of his lungs functioning normally and his heart was very deviated to the side,” she said. “Then in his immediate post op pictures you can see that the brace made a huge improvement straight away. His lungs were able to expand and his heart was in the correct position.
Along with the internal improvements, Pinky’s behavior indicated that he started feeling better right away.
“Pinky has always been pretty happy and active, but definitely a lot more now,” Berns said. “Most of our cats and dogs who have had this procedure seem much more energetic afterwards. They had some exercise intolerance before the surgery because they couldn’t develop their lungs properly, but afterwards they became like new animals.
The brace was left in place and gradually tightened for four weeks, until vets felt Pinky’s bones had mineralized enough to be removed and the sternum would stay in place.
Although there is still a chance that Pinky will need surgery in the future, the brace has ensured that he will be a happy and healthy kitten for the foreseeable future.
By the time Pinky completed her recovery, Guyette’s family had fallen in love and decided to adopt her. He and his brother had been separated long enough that they were no longer related, but Guyette’s roommate decided to adopt Floyd anyway so the kittens could be closer to each other.
Besides the fact that his case is full of lucky moments, another thing everyone who has met Pinky can agree on is that he has a special talent for capturing hearts.
“The day I drove Pinky to College Station, we left very early and arrived an hour and a half before her appointment,” Kidwell said. “We were there so early that I decided to let him out of his carrier in the car. Cats usually want to explore and run around your car and then you freak out thinking you’ll never get them back in the carrier, but he immediately climbed into my lap and was perfectly happy just lying there. He’s just the most laid back, kindest cat.
Even for those of the SATH, who rub shoulders with cats on a daily basis, the case of Pinky will remain to be remembered.
“He’s got the most personality I’ve seen in a kitten in a while,” Berns said. “He had a lot of fans here, both in our surgery department and in intensive care. We had a lot of people hoping they could adopt him when all of this was over.