As nine-year-old Staffie Boatswain struggled to walk, his spine at risk of imminent fracture because of the tumour, his owners feared he wouldn’t survive – but he has now made a remarkable recovery after his spine was rebuilt using a titanium implant in a pioneering operation. Despite the lengthy operation, Boatswain was up and walking in just 12 hours.
“He’s a very gentle dog who loves playing with our other Staffy, Scout,” said owner Emma Clarke. “We’d started noticing a few little things, like sometimes not jumping off the sofa or into the car, although not enough to really worry us.
“But then he began to yelp in pain and was having trouble getting downstairs. When we took him to our vets, he was in real pain wherever they touched him. We go to a specialist vet in Scotland for treatment for Scout’s arthritis and they did X-rays and told us that it looked like Boatswain had a tumour. It was a huge shock, and we could hardly take it in.”
Within a couple of days Boatswain was referred to Pride Veterinary Referrals, part of My Family Vets, where the decision was made to attempt the pioneering operation, using a tailor-made implant to replace a vertebra affected by cancer for the first time in the UK.
“By that time, he was dragging his back legs and unable to walk, so although we were told how new and risky the surgery was, we had to at least give him a chance,” said Emma. “There was no hope otherwise and I just wanted my dog back.”
A large team was assembled to perform the surgery, led by vets Juan Minguez, Annette Wessmann and Rosario Vallefuoco.
“We’re so proud that Boatswain is going to benefit other dogs who will hopefully be able to have similar surgery”
“The aim was to remove all of the tumour, which meant we would have to remove the whole vertebrae,” said Mr Minguez. “So, before we even started, we had a tailor-made titanium implant designed for Boatswain’s spine.
“Once we removed the tumour and vertebrae, we were able to replace it with the implant.
“This was state-of-the-art surgery, so we had to plan every step in advance. Thankfully everything went well, and we were thrilled by how Boatswain came through it.
“When we saw Boatswain get up and start walking within hours, we had to hug one another. Now we hope to be able to give other dogs a better quality of life with similar procedures.”
Boatswain still has to undergo a course of chemotherapy, but has been recovering well.
“When we went to pick him up and he walked out with his tail wagging, it was an amazing feeling,” said owner Jamie Platt. “We can see more of his old self coming through each day, but even now I look at him I can’t believe this really happened, and he has this titanium spine in there.
“We’re so proud that Boatswain is going to benefit other dogs who will hopefully be able to have similar surgery.”