Kristy’s story: a weight lifted off a brave golden retriever’s chest

Last summer, Kathy McLaughlin received horrible news – her beloved 9-year-old golden retriever Kristy had a massive tumor the size of a melon in her chest.

“I feared the worst,” said McLaughlin “Kristy was always very healthy, so I was surprised and scared when I found out about the mass in her chest.”

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Kristy wearing her favorite t-shirt

McLaughlin is an optimist and decided to try to save her dog with surgery. The decision taught her something very important – her dog is an optimist too. Here is Kristy’s story.

It all started early in the summer when McLaughlin noticed Kristy was having trouble breathing and falling over from sudden weakness. Kristy’s family assumed it was the heat and her age, but then Kristy began to lose weight and stopped eating. McLaughlin grew very concerned and rushed her to their family veterinarian, Dr. Jay Kuhlman, who has worked closely with Kristy for many years. A blood test showed nothing of concern, so Dr. Kuhlman took an x-ray of her chest to see what could be causing her troubled breathing. The x-ray revealed an enormous mass in Kristy’s chest, nestled in the body cavity where many vital organs are located. Because golden retrievers are prone to various types of cancers, McLaughlin feared the worst. But she made the strong decision to seek an oncology consult to see what her options were.

Kristy was referred to BluePearl Veterinary Partners in downtown New York City. BluePearl is a pet hospital that is home to a multitude of veterinarians who specialize in specific fields of medicine. After an initial ultrasound and further testing of the large mass, Kristy met with Dr. Joshua Lachowicz, a board-certified veterinary oncologist.

Dr. Lachowicz explained to McLaughlin the various possibilities. After reviewing the tests, he diagnosed the mass as a thymoma, which is a benign tumor of the thymus gland in a dog’s chest. Because it is benign, a thymoma tumor is technically not cancerous, however its size and growth can put dangerous and sometimes deadly pressure on the heart, lungs, vessels and other important structures. Kristy’s thymoma was massive, so Dr. Lachowicz ran various tests to help determine what structures may be affected by the tumor.

With all of the diagnostic tests completed, it was time to make a decision. Lachowicz discussed the possibilities of surgery or radiation with McLaughlin. He reviewed the entire case with McLaughlin, from the very beginning symptoms to the current state of weakness and lethargy that rapidly began to consume Kristy. Fortunately, the prognosis for thymoma tumors is typically very positive with surgery and/or radiation treatment. McLaughlin then knew all of the important factors and maintained confidence that Kristy was a tough pup, so she elected surgery because Kristy’s health was failing quickly.

“It is important to ask many questions and know all of your options before choosing atreatment plan,” said McLaughlin, “Choosing surgery for Kristy was a big decision. I considered many factors, including her history of overall optimal health and the prognosis of thymoma surgery.”

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Kristy with her loving veterinary team

That’s when Kristy met Dr. Philippa Pavia, a board-certified veterinary surgeon. Dr. Pavia spoke with McLaughlin and went over every step-by-step detail of the surgery, making sure to answer any questions. Dr. Pavia instantly formed a close connection with Kristy and McLaughlin, and she was confident the surgery would help Kristy return to her normal self. Following Dr. Pavia’s suggestion, McLaughlin chose to have a CT test of Kristy’s chest for an even more detailed image before the surgery.

On the surgery day, Dr. Pavia discovered the profound depth of the thymoma. It was attached to the pericardium (tissue around Kristy’s heart), her lungs and the walls of her chest. The surgery was aggressive, and the entire thymoma was successfully removed.

The surgery was a turning point for Kristy. Aside from a minor complication (fluid build-up in her chest which was relieved by a chest tube), she began to quickly return to her normal while being monitored 24/7 in the BluePearl’s intensive care unit. After 36 hours, she was accepting treats and beginning to eat normally again. And after 48 hours, the staff tried to take her outside on a gurney, but Kristy was determined to walk all by herself. The speed of her recovery stunned the veterinary team. Within a week after she returned home, she began breathing normally and resuming her normal activities.

“She was always a sweet dog, but I got to see her true, vibrant personality after surgery,” said Dr. Pavia, “She associated me with liver treats, and she would pull me toward the treat jar every time I met with her. She’s demanding in the cutest way possible.”

Kristy’s recovery continued to progress positively, and Dr. Lachowicz determined that Kristy would not need radiation therapy or any further treatment.

“Kristy is a good example of why pet owners should choose to diagnose and treat tumors,” said Dr. Lachowicz, “She was able to completely regain her quality of life.”

McLaughlin and Drs. Lachowicz and Pavia all agree that Kristy’s determination was a big factor in developing a successful outcome.

“When deciding which treatment is best, I advise to let your pet be your guide. In this case, Kristy was always willing to be strong and stay positive.” said Dr. Pavia, “Kristy’s tail was wagging during every appointment. She developed a close relationship with our team at BluePearl and she always had the support of her mom. She had cheerleaders in Kathy McLaughlin, her son and family friends.”

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Kristy resting after surgery

Kristy is now back to her normal life at home. She still visits her friends at BluePearl for rechecks, and to this day, she is still tumor-free. McLaughlin is grateful that her pup is fully recovered and is no longer in pain.

“I was impressed by the professionalism at BluePearl,” said McLaughlin, “The staff at BluePearl answered all of my questions, carefully explained costs and updated me regularly with written reports. They provided Kristy with round-the-clock care, called me at least twice a day and bonded with Kristy and me. It was obvious they truly cared about her treatment and recovery.”

If your pet is in need of specialty or emergency care, visit your closest BluePearl pet hospital.

If your pet has been diagnosed with a tumor or cancer, learn what to expect at your first veterinary oncology appointment.

If you are considering surgery for your pet, visit our frequently asked questions about veterinary surgery article to learn more.