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Sam saved after life-threatening stick injury

Sam is a 6-year-old rough collie with a zest for life and – unfortunately – a love for chasing sticks.

On one fateful day in June, Sam was playing with a stick and grabbed it end-on as it was landing, impaling himself. His owner managed to pull the stick out of his mouth, but after returning home Sam vomited and became subdued.

After Sam’s health started to deteriorate, his regular vet took some chest x-rays and found he had a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) and air build-up in the tissues of his neck. He was referred as an emergency to our Soft Tissue Surgery team.

When our surgery resident, Krizia Compagnone, assessed Sam he was experiencing breathing difficulty and had muffled lung sounds. After initial stabilisation, a CT scan was performed, showing air and fluid build-up in the chest cavity, causing a collapsed lung. Additionally, air was present around the oesophagus (gullet) and some changes were seen in one of the lung lobes.

Sam’s CT scan showing pneumothorax

Sam was taken to theatre for emergency surgery, where the team found a 2cm tear in the oesophagus (gullet) where the stick had penetrated. After repairing this, they performed open chest surgery to assess the damaged lung lobe and flush out the pus and debris from where the stick had entered his chest cavity. To prevent further air and fluid build-up a chest drain was placed.

After recovering well from surgery, Sam’s chest drain continued to drain a litre of fluid every day and his protein levels began to drop, creating further problems. A multi-disciplinary team discussed the best options for Sam and it was decided that he required a human albumin transfusion to increase his protein levels, which worked. However, a few days later, Sam deteriorated further, and his chest wound started leaking air. The surgeons and high-dependency nursing team used a special vacuum VAC therapy device to suck air and fluid from the chest cavity, which allowed the wound to heal.

Sam was a real fighter, and our entire hospital fought with him! After lots of nursing care and collaborative teamwork, Sam was finally discharged one month later.

We all fell in love with Sam and we are delighted that he has been reunited with his family (even though we miss him).

We wish Sam and his owner all the best!

Sam’s story has a happy ending, but we would like to take this opportunity to warn dog owners about stick injuries. Whilst throwing a stick may seem like a fun activity, stick injuries can be life-threatening. Professor Dan Brockman from the Royal Veterinary College, who co-authored a report with Zoe Halfacre, found that several dogs involved in their study died as a result of their stick injury and these deaths almost always involved resistant bacteria and infection that spread from the neck to the chest.