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Zsa Zsa’s Sight-Saving Cataract Surgery

October 3, 2012

Now that pets are living longer than ever—and developing the very degenerative diseases that befall humans—veterinary science has evolved to close the innovation gap between human and animal medicine.  The story of “Zsa Zsa,” a beloved seven-year-old Great Dane illustrates this trend like no other.  Nearly blind from cataracts, particularly in her left eye when she first came to Angell Animal Medical Center for an evaluation, Zsa Zsa can see clearly again thanks to the advanced procedure that restored her vision.

Zsa Zsa greets Angell Ophthalmologist Dr. Martin Coster after her cataract surgery

A Beloved Dog's Life Gets Smaller as Her Vision Fades
According to her owner, Candy Modica of Medway, Mass., Zsa Zsa’s vision problems started a couple of years ago and have gotten steadily worse.  Always a fearless and curious dog who was thrilled to explore her surroundings, Zsa Zsa’s pace slowed as her cataracts advanced.  “It began very subtly but soon progressed to the point where even I could tell her eye was growing increasingly cloudy,” said Modica.  “I knew then it was time to see a specialist and I knew right away I would take her to Angell, as the hospital did a masterful job repairing a ruptured disk in her neck in May of last year.” 

Modica brought Zsa Zsa to Angell Animal Medical Center’s Ophthalmology team for help.  Dr. Martin Coster conducted a thorough examination of Zsa Zsa’s eyes in August.  Said Dr. Coster of that initial examination: “Most importantly during that first exam, I had to determine whether Zsa Zsa’s underlying ocular health was sufficiently intact so that, should we move forward with cataract surgery, she would experience an excellent outcome.  Equally important: I wanted to assure Candy that even if she decided not to move forward with surgery, Zsa Zsa could still enjoy a happy life—even with severely compromised vision.”

The Angell Ophthalmology team conducted an eye ultrasound and retinal testing, and concluded that despite her advanced cataracts Zsa Zsa’s eyes were otherwise healthy, and surgery to remove the cataract would likely be successful. 

Armed with this information Candy decided to move forward with the procedure.  She and Dr. Coster decided to delay surgery on Zsa Zsa’s right eye because that cataract was still relatively mild.  “Whether or not to do a procedure like this is a lot to consider,” Modica said.  “Not only is an elective surgery such as cataract removal expensive, I needed the confidence that should I put Zsa Zsa through such an ordeal that her quality of life after the operation would be greatly magnified.  Dr. Coster and his team supported my decision-making process, and ultimately I felt comfortable enough to move forward—knowing that Zsa Zsa would be in excellent hands.”

Surgery Restores Zsa Zsa’s Sight
Zsa Zsa was placed under general anesthesia by Angell’s anesthesiology team.  Her large size made the procedure challenging because as Dr. Coster said, “She barely fit on the operating table and the process reminded me of previous eye surgeries I had performed on horses.”  Using an operating microscope, Dr. Coster made a very tiny (3mm) incision in her affected eye, and carefully extracted the cataract with a machine designed for use in humans.  Dr. Coster then inserted a false lens into the dog’s eye.  Zsa Zsa remained in the hospital overnight under the dutiful watch of doctors and nurses and regained excellent vision in her left eye almost immediately.

Zsa Zsa’s surgery was a tremendous success.  Much of her original vision was immediately restored, and she continues to improve at home under Modica’s careful watch.  She will need eye drops for the rest of her life but, according to Modica, “That is such a minor price to pay for an outcome like this.  I feel like I have my sweet and gentle giant back—she’s happier than ever now that she can once again experience her world the way she had before her vision problems began.  I’m ecstatic with the outcome.”

Angell Animal Medical Center has been on the leading edge of developing innovative specialty veterinary services, which have become necessary as pets age.  In addition to complex eye problems, today’s pets are living long enough to develop other diseases of the heart, cancer, arthritis, chronic pain and more.  Doctors at Angell remain committed to pioneering the most contemporary treatments to ensure pets remain healthy and active throughout their lives. 

To learn more about cataracts and surgery, click here.