Patient: Oakley, a four-year-old Dalmatian
Ailment: Ingestion of a spiky rubber ball
History: It happened in a blink during a Central Park dog gathering last spring. One moment, Oakley was holding the ball in his jaws, the next moment, it was down his throat. "I didn't want to believe it," says owner Aner Marks, a software developer who lives on the Upper West Side. Oakley had swallowed a ball just a month earlier. "The last one he struggled with. But this one just went floop! and was gone." The other dog owners, typically, were all giving Marks advice. "Make him throw up! Make him eat grass! Do the Heimlich! But I finished the game, went home, ate breakfast, and called Dr. Campbell once her office opened."
Diagnosis: Rebecca Campbell of Symphony Veterinary Center on the Upper West Side had helped Oakley through his first ball-swallowing, during which she discovered not only a ball down there but a guitar string too! (Oakley eventually vomited up that ball; the string remains.) This time, Campbell gave Marks two options: traditional surgery or an endoscopic retrieval. The spiky toy, says Campbell, "never would have made it through the intestine." Endoscopy -- removing the ball through Oakley's esophagus -- was deemed too risky. Had the ball gotten stuck during the procedure, removing it would have required opening his chest, a more dangerous operation than stomach surgery.
Treatment: "When Oakley was shifting in the cage before the operation, occasionally you could hear a squeak come out of his stomach," says Campbell. During surgery, she located the offending sphere by squeezing Oakley's abdomen and listening.
Post-op: The day after surgery, Oakley was well enough to be the centerpiece at a birthday party for Marks's 5-year-old niece. As for the ball, "it took $1,200 in vet bills to save a $1.98 ball that wasn't even mine," Marks says. "I gave it back to my friend. 'Here you go,' I said. 'It still squeaks.' "