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A Life Saved Twice: Family Grateful to Tufts’ Surgeon


11-year old Boxer-mix (part Boxer and part German Shepherd)

Cheryl knew something was wrong when she came home to find Dakota (“Kota”), her very spirited, 11-year old boxer walking around like he was lost and very uncomfortable. She also noticed that his abdomen was swollen. He subsequently vomited and seemed a little better but she didn’t want to let it go without having him checked out.

The first appointment she could get with her family veterinarian was two days later on Saturday. Upon examination, he palpated Dakota’s abdomen and found that it was distended and unusually hard. He ordered an x-ray which revealed that Dakota had a tumor in his spleen. Cheryl was advised that it could be one of two things: a highly malignant cancer called a hemangiosarcoma or a benign mass called a hematoma, essentially a blood clot. Her veterinarian felt that cancer was the most likely of the two and advised her of two alternative treatment plans. If she chose to have the spleen removed, it would give him only about 3 months if it was the very aggressive form of cancer. Without the surgery, it was likely he would die within the week from a spleen rupture. Cheryl had a special bond with Kota, a dog she had rescued and she did not want to let him go just yet. She was truly concerned and after some research decided to pursue a second opinion at Tufts. “I trusted my instincts. I know Kota and there was no way I was going to let him go without seeking any additional information to help make this decision,” says Cheryl.

Upon arriving at Tufts on the following Wednesday, Cheryl immediately felt she made the right decision for Kota. Cheryl recalls how personalized the care was “They took care of everything from the time we walked through the door. Dr. Berg’s initial steps were to do all the necessary tests to get to the bottom of Dakota’s situation and it was refreshing to be able to speak directly with such a seasoned surgeon.” When she and her husband Roger met Dr. John Berg, Tufts’ small animal surgeon, he offered some hope. He told them that there was about a 30-40% chance the tumor could be a hematoma, and a somewhat greater chance that it was cancerous. Since hemangiosarcoma commonly metastasizes to the liver, he ordered an ultrasound to look for evidence of spread there, or to any other sites in the abdomen. He also ordered a chest x-ray to look for evidence of spread to the lungs. Advanced diagnostic testing would provide the additional information Kota’s family was seeking to help them make a surgery decision. A 30-40% chance of a benign lesion gave Cheryl and Roger a reason to be optimistic. Cheryl had done everything she could since his rescue to protect Dakota, so when Dr. Berg called back she had the weight lifted off her shoulders. The blood work and chest x-ray were normal, and the ultrasound showed no evidence of spread to the liver. These results gave Dr. Berg more confidence that a hematoma was high on the list of possibilities, and recommended surgery. Because of the comprehensive nature of the services that Tufts offers, Dakota had access to other specialty care, which was needed when he developed an arrhythmia. Upon the cardiology team’s assessment, they deemed Kota was stable enough to proceed with surgery. In just two days, the surgery was completed and Dr. Berg had removed a hematoma; a mass the size of a football which if left alone, would very likely have caused the spleen to rupture. And the best news came a couple weeks later when Dr. Berg shared with Kota’s family that the tumor was indeed a hematoma and non-cancerous.

Because of Dr. Berg’s access to Tufts’ comprehensive and advanced diagnostic services, he was able to feel fairly certain that the mass wasn’t cancer and that Kota was an appropriate candidate for surgery before advising Kota’s family. And as a result, Cheryl and Roger knew they were making the right decision in going forward.

This all happened in September 2014 and five months later, Dakota is now back to his old spirited self. He takes the steps four at a time, jumps into their jeep and van and jumps with excitement when he sees them. She says, “I saved him twice, first as a rescue dog when he was about 10 months old, and now with Dr. Berg’s help and his lifesaving surgery. Dr. Berg and all the staff at Tufts Foster Hospital made us feel so welcome, well-advised and cared for through this whole process. We are so thankful for Dr. Berg.”