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Oklahoma State Vets Perform First-Ever Heart Surgery on a Sheep

The force was with Yoda, a therapy sheep with a congenital heart problem.


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Yoda with Bob Williams

Facebook/Ranch Hand Rescue

Yoda, a sheep, with Ranch Hand Rescue founder Bob Williams.

A sheep with a congenital heart problem made history this year when veterinarians at the Oklahoma State University performed heart surgery on him to fix him. 

The sheep, named Yoda, had patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), and his heart was 2 1/2 times its normal size. When he was brought into Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences, he was first treated by Ryan Baumwart, DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology), Assistant Professor, an assistant professor at the school. Helping him was DVM, MS, DACVIM, associate professor of Food Animal Medicine & Surgery at Robert Streeter Oklahoma State University.

“With [Dr.] Streeter’s assistance, we first tried to correct the problem by going in through a blood vessel in Yoda’s leg with a catheter, Baumwart explained. “However, the blood vessel we wanted to close off was too large.”

Baumwart then gave the case over to Danielle Dugat,  DVM, MS, DACVS-SA, a small animal surgeon.

“My role was to take Yoda to surgery and open his chest where we could see his heart, the normal blood vessels and the shunting vessel,” Dugat said. “I secured a suture around that vessel and tied it down, closing that vessel completely. Blood flow could no longer pass through that shunt pathway. As a result, the murmur disappears and Yoda can begin the recovery process.”

This is the first time heart surgery to correct PDA has been performed on a sheep, making this case one for the textbooks. And it couldn’t have happened to a more special sheep, as Yoda is part of the Ranch Hand Rescue Counseling Center and Animal Sanctuary located in South Argyle, Texas. This rescue provides mental health therapy services for children and adults suffering from abuse or PSTD.

Every animal at the rescue has a special need, from blindness to cancer to the first horse ever in the world with a prosthetic leg without an amputation, Ranch Hand Rescue founder Bob Williams told NBCDFW.  "We are the only ones in the world that use abused and neglected animals in mental health therapy for counseling for individuals.”

Yoda is one of the most popular animals at the rescue. “All the animals here see clients daily in our Counseling Program, but Yoda has a very strong connection with many of our clients, who are abused children,” Williams said. “It’s exciting to me to do this first-ever procedure. I’m very proud of the partnership we have with OSU and of the team here. Yoda’s unconditional love and snuggles he gives to all the clients make him a special partner to all who meet him.” 

Yoda is now recovering, and should be back to helping children soon. 

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