Julius, an orange-and-white tabby, has been beating the
odds his whole life.
barely survived his birth: OJ was the runt of a litter delivered
by a stray that wandered into a San Antonio, Texas, backyard
during a nasty thunderstorm in the spring of 1989. Animal
lovers Nancy and Paul Norris rescued OJ and welcomed him
into their home where dogs, frogs, a hamster and turtles
resided, as well.
year later, OJ licked antifreeze drippings of the garage
floor. The ethylene glycol in the antifreeze caused rapid
crystallization in his kidneys. Within 24 hours, the Norris'
flew him to the University of California at Davis, the only
place in the United States at the time where feline kidney
transplants were performed. He was dangerously near death.
cat had been through a lot since birth and was very much
part of our family. We couldn't just sit back and do nothing
and let him die," Nancy Norris says.
years later, OJ's playful and mellow manner belies his rough
beginnings. At 11 years old and a solid 14 pounds, OJ has
the distinction of being the country's longest-surviving
feline kidney transplant patient.
is very friendly and very outgoing. When people come to
our house, he walks right up to greet them. He loves for
you to rub his stomach," Norris says. "We feel
blessed to have him in our life."
a Kidney Fails
Thanks to advances in anesthesiology, surgical procedures
and medications, more and more cats facing acute or chronic
kidney disease are living long, healthy lives after a transplant.
cats as well as people the pair of kidneys
works as the body's filters to cleanse the blood of waste
products. They take in blood, filter it and produce urine
for excretion. They also help regulate blood pressure and
calcium in the body. When the kidney's fail, toxins are
released in the body, and if untreated, death occurs.
and researchers still do not know definitely what causes
kidney problems in cats. But they have identified certain
environmental factors that can cause kidney damage, even
death to your cat: antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid, Easter
lilies, tiger lilies, stargazer lilies and day lilies.
your cat is diagnosed with kidney damage, your veterinarian's
first course of action is to prescribe medications and administer
fluids to restore hydration, electrolyte balance and acid-base
dialysis, to filter toxins from the failing kidneys, can
also be performed at a university, but this only prolongs
a cat's life. Dialysis can improve a cat's survival rate
while waiting for a kidney transplant. And in fact, it is
common for cats to undergo three or four such treatments
prior to the surgery. A kidney transplant is the only way
to save your cat from acute or chronic renal failure.
older cats (8 and up) are good transplant candidates if
they don't have any other medical problem such as diabetes
or a heart condition. The oldest cat given a transplant
by Dr. Aronson was 15 years old; for Dr. Gregory, it was
a 16-year-old cat.
At least nine veterinary hospitals and centers in the United
States have surgeons capable of performing this delicate
operation. "In the beginning, the success rate was
about 65 percent survival after the first year, but now,
we're up to about 90 percent," says Clare Gregory,
DVM, a pioneer in feline transplantation surgeries and a
professor or surgery and radiological sciences at the University
of California at Davis. He led the surgical team that performed
the kidney transplant on OJ.
kidney transplant is an expensive, last-resort effort to
save a cat's life. Typically, the procedure requires four
hours of surgery and costs between $4,000 and $5,000. Owners
must agree to adopt the donor cat, which is a healthy but
homeless cat from the local animal shelter or veterinary
you get the chance to save not one, but two cats' lives,"
says Lillian Aronson, DVM, who trained with Dr. Gregory
at UC Davis and now directs the kidney transplant program
at the University of Pennsylvania's College of Veterinary
Medicine in Philadelphia.
healthy kidney is removed from the donor cat and transplanted
to the recipient cat within one hour to minimize the time
the organ is without a blood supply. During this microsurgical
procedure, the ureter from the donor kidney is connected
to the recipient's bladder and the new kidney is attached
to the recipient's blood vessels.
surprising news for many cat owners is the failing kidneys
remain in the sick cat. The new kidney is simply situated
in the lower abdomen next to the bladder.
recipient cat lives with three kidneys, the donor cat with
"I tell my patients that it's the same number of kidneys
per household, just redistributed," Dr. Aronson says.
the two original kidneys though weak are vital
to a cat's chance for survival. "Sometimes, the new
kidney doesn't work right away and we need the older kidneys,
which are still functioning to some degree," Dr. Aronson
says. "We only go back in at a later time to remove
the native kidneys if they've developed infection or tumors,
but that's rare. There is plenty of room in the abdomen
for three kidneys in a cat."
Research and Hope
After spending more than a decade perfecting kidney transplant,
Dr. Gregory and his UC Davis colleagues are ready to tackle
the bigger challenge; pinpointing the cause behind this
sneaky disease in an effort to find a cure. They are currently
raising money in hope of opening the nation's first dialysis/transplantation
center. They hope to achieve this goal by late next year.
Researchers there would study and treat renal failure in
are doing more transplants than ever, but we still don't
know most of the time what's causing the renal failure,
other than acute cases like antifreeze ingestion. It's like
looking at a barn after it's burned down and not knowing
if lightning or someone with a match started the fire,"
Dr. Gregory says.
"We can save many more animals' lives if we have the
support to research possible dietary and genetic influences
behind the disease," Dr. Gregory says.
The success of publicized kidney transplants reassured Susie
Lorden of Sacramento, Calif., her 9-year-old black cat would
survive a transplant operation. Adopted as a stray kitten
when it darted under her moving car, Damian was an adventure-seeker
who loved care rides and taking evening neighborhood strolls
on a leash with Lorden. When she noticed Damian excessively
lapping up bowls of water, Lorden took him to his veterinarian
who delivered shocking news: kidney failure.
vet basically told meall I could do was give Damian fluids,
low-protein foods and make him comfortable, but that hew
was going to die and die soon," Lorden says.
Lorden did some research and discovered a Web site called
the Feline CRF Information Center, which alerted her to
the veterinary clinics in the country at which kidney transplants
were performed. She immediately dialed UC Davis and made
an appointment for Damian.
surgery was successful. Today, Damian again strolls in the
neighborhood (albeit now leashed in a baby stroller), begs
for cat treats and tolerates Nike, his donor cat housemate.
Although Damian must take immune and antirejection drugs
daily, he's gained back the 5 pounds he lost when first
diagnosed with kidney failure.
back to his wonderful old self," Lorden says. "Looking
at him now, you'd never realize how bad off he was."
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