Few clinics in the area have the equipment, training, and expertise needed to perform the minimally invasive ectopic ureter procedure, which means that people come to the teaching hospital in Blacksburg from far away. Morris drove two hours each way so that Willow could receive this treatment.
Using a technique called fluoroscopy, Keebaugh and her team use real-time X-ray imaging to guide the procedure. They don protective lead outfits under their gowns to protect them from X-rays and wear special glasses to protect their eyes from the laser used to cut into the tissue.
Because of the procedure’s location, Keebaugh uses scopes and stents to guide the laser — no incision needed. She then opens the tissue so that the ureter opens in the correct position. The whole procedure takes about an hour and a half to two hours, and because it isn’t invasive, the dogs are able to return to running and playing the next day.
“They did it that morning, and we came home that evening,” said Morris. “She walked out of the hospital without a diaper. She says, ‘Mom, I’m tired of these, and I’m tired of you washing them every night and cleaning me.'”
“What’s very rewarding about these procedures is that there’s something we can clearly fix. We can change dogs’ lives when they’re little puppies so we can give them a better quality of life long-term,” said Keebaugh. “The long-term goal is that the dog is urinary continent. If we don’t have complete continence for these patients, their continence is much better.”
Some dogs may have other urinary tract issues besides ectopic ureter that contribute to incontinence after the procedure. Willow is experiencing some leaking, which could be a result of a urinary tract infection or an issue with her urethral sphincter. Morris is working with small animal internal medicine resident Camille Brassard to monitor this problem, and Willow may have to take medication to strengthen the sphincter.
The ectopic ureter procedure is only one of several minimally invasive procedures offered at the teaching hospital, as both Keebaugh and assistant professor of cardiology Giulio Menciotti are interested in interventional radiology.
“I feel very proud of being able to offer minimally invasive procedures in this area, and I want to push more for it,” said Keebaugh. “This is the future; this is what we should be offering as the standard of care for our patients.”
For Morris, compassion sets the hospital apart from the rest.
“I felt very confident in the doctors because they explained all of the terminology to me. I felt very comfortable,” said Morris. “I can’t praise them enough. With the follow-up calls they made, they called when she was there overnight — to me, my four-leggeds are my babies, and they were perfect pediatricians. I feel like they gave every animal in that clinic the same love that they gave Willow.”