LEVITTOWN – When Sophie, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, was diagnosed with a heart murmur at age 4, her owner didn’t want it to be a death sentence.
Like many of her breed, Sophie suffers from inherited degenerative mitral valve disease, which means some of the blood pumped out of her heart regurgitates back in through the faulty valve. There’s no known cure, but for years her owner, Jeanne Navratil, worked with Dr. Maribeth Bossbaly, a board-certified veterinary cardiologist at Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center (VSEC), to treat the condition medically.
Earlier this year, as Sophie turned 9, she took a turn for the worse. Without surgery, she would eventually suffer heart failure. Navratil didn’t want to give up, so she started doing research. The team at VSEC told her about a surgeon who was skilled at mitral valve repair. The catch? He performs the surgery in two locations worldwide: at his own clinic, JASMINE, in Yokohama, Japan, and at the Clinique Veterinaire Bozon in Versailles, France.
Navratil was undaunted.
“Sophie is like my child,” she said. “I couldn’t stand to watch her suffer and didn’t want to see her quality of life decline. If there’s something available I can do, I’m going to do it.”
After working with Dr. Bossbaly and her team of cardiology nurses to prepare the necessary bloodwork and pre-operative diagnostics, Navratil and Sophie flew to France on Thanksgiving night. At the Clinique Veterinaire Bozon, they met Dr. Masami Uechi, a Japanese surgeon who travels to France a few times a year to perform the delicate surgery. The clinic in France that hosts Dr. Uechi is owned and operated by Dr. Sabine Bozon and her husband, Dr. Jean-Hugues Bozon, and they provide the post-operative care for the week or more after the surgery.
Three days after arriving in Versailles, Sophie underwent the six-hour procedure. She was placed on a bypass machine while Dr. Uechi and his team carefully repaired the mitral valve and replaced one chordae (tiny tendons) connected to her mitral valve. The remaining chordae were also reinforced.
Navratil said she had a moment of doubt when she saw her beloved dog attached to so many tubes following the surgery. But by the very next day, Sophie was up and wagging her tail.
“I just consider it a miracle,” Navratil said. “I really do.”
Sophie experienced a few complications after surgery, which delayed her recovery by a week. By Dec. 17, they were ready to fly home.
Recovery hasn’t been easy. Navratil needs to administer a lot of medication, and Sophie can only walk for short distances before she tires. But there’s been an 80 percent reduction in regurgitation through her mitral valve.
“To see the improvement that I have seen, it’s encouraging to me that we are finally approaching the disease head-on and no just placing a ‘band-aid’ over the problem,” said Dr. Bossbaly.
Now Navratil hopes to educate others about the surgery in hopes of bringing it to the United States. Right now, there are no U.S. veterinarians performing mitral valve repair surgery. She’s been working with an organization called the Mighty Hearts Project, whose members helped her find Dr. Uechi.
“I feel so blessed and so grateful that I have been able to do this for Sophie,” Navratil said. “I know there are many others who can’t. We want to do everything we can to save as many dogs as possible.”