Patient: Sammy, an ex-stray cat, roughly five years old
The ailment: Diaphragmatic hernia
History: In 1997, Sammy was retrieved from an abandoned building in Chinatown by City Critters animal-rescue service and taken to West Chelsea Veterinary Hospital. He had difficulty breathing and was unable to meow. "When I talked to him, he would try to meow back, but no sound would come out," says the hospital's manager, Liz Farber, who was also puzzled by the way Sammy sat: propped on his front legs, his body splayed out behind him. "He would crane his neck a little bit and breathe that way," says Farber. "It was completely baffling."
Diagnosis: An X-ray revealed a hernia in the diaphragm, a cat injury that can result from impacts such as falling several stories from a window or getting hit by a car. Farber's husband, Michael, a vet who owns the hospital, estimated that the injury was about a year old. Because Sammy hadn't been treated for the accident, "his abdominal organs had made their way into the thoracic cavity through the tear in the diaphragm," says Michael. "They were taking up space where the lungs normally expand. The liver and intestines had adhered to the wall of the chest and the lungs themselves."
Treatment: "With adhesions, the longer they're there, the thicker and stronger they get," says Michael. Liz adds, "Did you ever pull two things apart that were stuck together and end up ripping one? That was the problem." Although Sammy was high-risk, a surgical resident at Animal Medical Center was interested in taking the case. Despite four-to-one odds that the cat wouldn't survive, says Michael, "we figured he probably couldn't be any worse off than he already was." He had to be manually respirated with an oxygen bag throughout the 90-minute operation.
Post-op: Sammy's insides are now right, but he still suffers from asthma and digestive problems. More medical procedures could be in his future, which convinced the Farbers to adopt him; the best family for Sammy is a vet family. "He completely appreciates the lap of luxury," says Liz. "And he got his meow back."