March 06, 2019


A cute brown and white puppy plays in some grass


The Hymowitz family had the privilege to raise a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Charlie right along with three kids in their Long Island home. As Charlie grew older, they adopted a puppy named Harper to keep Charlie company, and to ease the grief when the inevitable happened.

After Charlie passed, there was an emptiness in the family’s home. Harper fell into depression, going from active and rambunctious to spending her days moping around the house. David, who said he never wanted a dog in the first place, took Charlie’s death the hardest, but everyone was miserable. It was time to open their hearts and their home to a new family member.

After a few months of unsuccessful searching, the family drove three hours to Pennsylvania to meet with a rescue group from North Carolina. They had already made their choice before leaving home, and when they finally saw Oliver in person, they knew they’d made the right one.

“Everyone fell in love with Oliver within five minutes,” Lisa said. “Harper immediately brightened up and was back to her old self.”

Oliver was small, but he ate and drank well, so nothing seemed amiss. But by his 16-week checkup, his belly was so large that Lisa asked the veterinarian if they might be overfeeding him. “The doctor said to just feed him a little less,” said Lisa, “but within a couple of days his belly was so swollen that he looked like a donkey!”

Back to the vet they went. After many tests, they were sent to a local veterinary hospital where they learned Oliver had a very rare congenital heart defect.

One chamber of his heart was divided into two by a large membrane. There was a hole in the membrane, but it was too tiny to allow blood to flow normally from the abdomen to the heart. As the fluid backed up into Oliver’s belly, causing it to swell, his body was deprived of the oxygen and nutrients it needed to grow healthy and strong. A balloon could be used to widen the hole, but it would be a temporary fix at best—it would be both expensive and hard on Oliver’s little body.

Oliver’s veterinarian recommended that Lisa call AMC. After reviewing Oliver’s medical records, Dr. Philip Fox, Head of Cardiology, got in touch with Lisa immediately to schedule a visit. “I read up on the scientific literature and found that very few attempts had been made to permanently repair this type of defect,” explained Dr. Fox. “But, based on the overall experience of our team and our facilities, we thought we had a good chance of saving Oliver’s life.”

Dr. Fox discussed the risks with the family. “He told us that most people wouldn’t try this surgery,” Lisa said. “If the defect had been detected before we adopted him, he never would have left the rescue group.” But Oliver was family now. “The kids couldn’t fathom the idea of not saving him, no matter the cost.”

Dr. Fox and his team went to work on the brand-new, high-risk procedure. The surgery involved passing a very small catheter from a vein in Oliver’s leg up to his heart. “It was like threading a needle indirectly,” described Dr. Fox, “using fluoroscopic and echocardiographic guidance to identify this tiny, four-millimeter hole and place the tip of the catheter inside.” Once inside, a precision cutting device was expanded at the tip of the catheter, and its tiny cutting surfaces widened the opening to allow for normal blood flow.

“We had complete faith in Dr. Fox,” Lisa said, but the wait was still stressful. In the end, the procedure was a success.

Four months later, Oliver has doubled in size. His symptoms are completely resolved, and he’s a happy, energetic member of the family. The family understands how fortunate they are to have found AMC. “We absolutely believe that this was the only place that we could have gotten this outcome. Anywhere else, and I don’t think he would have made it.”

A cute brown and white puppy plays in some grass
An adorable brown and white puppy sits in some grass
A small brown and white puppy plays with a chew toy
A brown and white dog with a cone around its head at the Animal Medical Center
A brown and white dog lying down in a yard
A brown and white dog smiles while sitting on some grass