Essex animal hospital has saved the life of a cat

April 25, 2023

A leading Essex animal hospital has saved the life of a much-loved cat after carrying out an extremely rare pacemaker operation.

The complex surgery to fix 12-year-old Alfie’s heart took place at Linnaeus-owned Southfields Veterinary Specialists in Basildon, the first time the leading referral centre had carried out the procedure on a cat and one of only a handful of such operations performed across the UK each year.

While fitting pacemakers in dogs is relatively common, cats present unique challenges as the electrical lead of the lifesaving devices are usually not placed through a vein but must be surgically implanted while the patient is kept alive using an external pacemaker.

While the successful surgery was led by Esteban Gonzàlez Gasch, head of soft tissue and orthopaedic surgery, and Jon Wray, clinician in cardiology and internal medicine Specialist, Alfie’s treatment was the result of a multidisciplinary effort, highlighting the incredible strength of the £16 million hospital’s industry-leading services.

Alfie was initially referred to Southfields with a suspicion he was having seizures and seen as an emergency out-of-hours case, attended by neurology and internal medicine teams.

However, thanks to both teams’ experience and expertise, they recognised early on the pet may be having a cardiac problem and, despite the time of Alfie’s presentation, contacted Jon some 70 miles away for advice on the case.

Jon, a renowned clinician who recently joined Southfields from fellow Linnaeus-owned referral centre Willows Veterinary Centre and Referral Service in Solihull, said: “Alfie began collapsing a week before referral, initially getting wobbly and falling to the floor before picking himself up. These got worse, culminating in 15 collapsing episodes in one day.

“His uncommon condition, called third degree atrioventricular block, was particularly severe and meant his heart was not able to beat properly for periods of time, leading to little or no blood being pumped to his brain and making him collapse.

“This meant Alfie required a pacemaker as a matter of urgency in order to save his life, as his severe condition could not be treated by medication.

“This is an unusual surgery to perform and the first time this procedure has been carried out at Southfields.

“The procedure involves placing and suturing the pacemaker lead on the beating heart and requires close coordination between the surgical, anaesthesia and cardiology teams. Very few referral centres in the UK have the combined expertise to be able to do this.

“I am delighted we were able to provide expedient, life-saving treatment for his rare condition with combined expertise of a multidisciplinary team, regardless that he became ill out of hours.

“The operation went well and Alfie has since returned to Southfields to re-check his pacemaker and he has made an excellent recovery.”

Alfie’s grateful owners, John and Anita Pearson from Southend-on-Sea, said: “We were obviously worried as it was a complex procedure but were very relieved we could give him a second chance thanks to the experts at Southfields.

“He is now back to being the Alfie we knew, exploring, being very cuddly and purring a lot!”

Southfields, which moved into its state-of-the-art £16 million Basildon hospital last summer, offers specialist services such as anaesthesia and analgesia, cardiology, dentistry, dermatology, diagnostic imaging, exotics, internal medicine, neurology, oncology, ophthalmology, orthopaedics, radiation and soft tissue surgery.

For more information on Cardiology and interventional cardiology procedures at Southfields, click here.