Family receives holiday miracle with dog’s successful skull tumor surgery

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If at the heart of every miracle is transformation of a hopeless situation, then the Vinson family of Phenix City, Alabama, received their miracle with the successful skull tumor surgery for their dog, Scooby.

The 1-year-old Great Dane mix underwent surgery Dec. 10 at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital to remove the large bony tumor on the right upper side of his skull. A 3-D model of Scooby’s skull was created using additive manufacturing prior to surgery so the surgeons could better plan for the procedure.

He was discharged Dec. 12, doing exceedingly well and wagging his tail when he was returned to his owners, Casey and Cindy Vinson.

The successful three-hour surgery was under the direction of veterinary oncology surgeons Dr. Brad Matz and Dr. Daniel Linden; Dr. Katelyn Hlusko, a resident in small animal surgery; and numerous oncology, anesthesia faculty, technicians and fourth-year clinical students.

Surgeons performed a challenging procedure: removing an extensive 12cm tumor from the front of the skull; and part of the jaw, a nasal bone and frontal bones.

“The Vinsons are great folks and Scooby is clearly an important part of their family,” Matz said. “I am happy to have played a small role in their story and I wish them the best.”

The teaching hospital, with a mission of being an academic teaching hospital and veterinary referral center, involves fourth-year veterinary students in the clinical education. Kileigh Speed of Dothan, Alabama, was assigned to Scooby’s case and in the surgery, and Courtney Hawthorne, of Alexandria, Louisiana, and Kelly Whippo of Longwood, Florida, were on the oncology surgery rotation.

“I’ve wanted to be a veterinarian since I was 3 years old and this case is exactly why,” Speed said. “Veterinary medicine is a people-oriented job that allows you to combine a passion for both animals and people, and this case proved just how phenomenal it can be.

“What I will take away from this is that ‘It’s possible—even when so many things are stacked against you, with the right people in place and a plan, it’s possible’,” she said.

“There were times in the surgery I was holding my breath because I saw the trust between the surgeons and the team, and that was superb to watch,” Speed said. “Veterinary medicine is an exciting adventure where I learn every day and I am in awe of what I experienced with this case. I know I’ll never forget it and it will mold me to be a better veterinarian when I graduate.”

The Vinsons already consider Scooby to be a miracle dog, adopted in September from an Atlanta-area animal shelter for their daughter, Georgia-Ray, who has Rett syndrome, a debilitating neurological disorder. The disease has caused Georgia-Ray to have limited intentional movements, something Scooby immediately changed.

“It’s rare for her to smile and connect to anyone, and she immediately did with Scooby,” Casey Vinson said.

A few months later, the couple noticed a knot above Scooby’s right eye.

“We thought it might be a bite or something and took him to our local veterinarian. After some treatment and a bone fragment removal, the swelling returned and we were referred to Auburn.”

Scooby’s primary care veterinarian, Dr. Rene’ Lefranc, at Second Avenue Animal Hospital in Columbus, Georgia, said he was thrilled Scooby’s surgery was successful.

“Once we treated for a bug bite and the swelling came back, I saw on x-rays the seriousness of the situation and referred him to Auburn,” he said. “Scooby and the Vinson family are special, and it’s rewarding to see all this come about.”

The Vinsons learned then of the serious nature of Scooby’s health, and the nearly $6,000 procedure cost. While the Vinson’s started a Go Fund Me to help raise money for the surgery, an anonymous donor also provided financial support, and Scooby’s surgery date was set.

The surgery was not without high risk, and veterinarians were up-front with the owners about the very real possibility of Scooby not surviving the surgery.

“Dr. Matz from the very beginning was honest in how complicated and risky the surgery was,” Casey Vinson said. “We had confidence, however, that we were in the place Scooby needed to be, and we believed we had do this for Scooby’s sake for him to have a happy life.”

Pathology evaluations are underway on the tumor. While Scooby’s long-term prognosis is not yet known, he is doing very well as he recovers from the surgery, and everyone is optimistic.

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The College of Veterinary Medicine is the South's original and nation's seventh oldest veterinary medical program, celebrating 126 years. We prepare individuals for careers of excellence in veterinary medicine, including private and public practice, industrial medicine, academics, and research. The college provides programs of instruction, research, outreach, and service that are in the best interests of the citizens of the state of Alabama, the region, the nation, and the world.