Avril Arendse, clinical instructor of neurology and neurosurgery at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, and her neurosurgery team were able to combine high-tech technology and surgical teamwork to help a paralyzed dog walk again.

After an accident left Lily, a 2-year-old dachshund, paralyzed, her owners consulted several veterinarians for help. Lily wasn't expected to walk again, at least not pain-free, and though surgery was an option, it had many risks. The private practice veterinarians and emergency animal hospitals in the area that her owners checked with weren't equipped to perform the procedure.

Lily's owners were determined to find a solution, so when there was mention of someone at the veterinary teaching hospital who might be able to help, they drove her five hours to see what could be done. They connected with Arendse, who happened to have the proper resources to help, including a skilled team to support her.

The surgery Arendse performed on Lily has a mortality rate of 25 percent, with a 50/50 chance she would walk pain-free again. It's risky and intricate, which makes it an involved process. Arendse needed the capabilities and confidence from her team for the job, but she also needed the resources and support of the veterinary teaching hospital to excel.

"Because of fractures like this, you need staffing and other kinds of specialized equipment like MRI and CT," Arendse said. "We needed at least two to three people during the surgery, scrubbing in to help physically. You need multiple sets of hands that can be physically involved in the surgery."

Even with the veterinary teaching hospital's workforce and resources, these surgeries are rarely performed, making Lily's procedure unusual and adding pressure on Arendse and the team. "It's one of the things that, honestly, I've gotten to do here at the veterinary teaching hospital that I didn't get to do in private practice because of the resources and other expertise that we have available."

The 3D printed spine used to rehearse the surgery also shows the break in Lily's spine.

The 3D printed spine used to rehearse the surgery also shows the break in Lily's spine.
The 3D printed spine used to rehearse the surgery also shows the break in Lily's spine.

The 3D printer is a tool that was crucial for success. Using the printer to create a model of Lily's spine, Arendse and the team practiced the surgery they would perform to help Lily walk again. Being able to physically hold, manipulate, and view the spine from all angles was a considerable benefit in knowing what they needed to do and where.

Arendse was pleased with the results. "Postoperatively, Lily was doing just as well as preoperatively, and that's what we want to see. Sometimes it can be worse after the surgery, but she was already a little bit better and much more comfortable after."

Typically, that would be the end of the story: a few follow-up visits to check on progress as Lily healed and some rehab at the veterinary teaching hospital or with a local veterinarian. But Lily's owners had other ideas. They were so grateful for the life-changing successful outcome they made a TikTok sharing Lily's remarkable journey. Her story tugged on the heartstrings of many TikTok viewers, making the surgical prowess of the team of veterinarians go viral, and the story got picked up by local TV news.

The virality of Lily's story sheds light on the appreciation owners feel toward the doctors who keep their pets safe and healthy. Arendse and the team's success with Lily is a testament to the importance of veterinarians using cutting-edge technology to give animals better care.

With 3D printers and other technology becoming more common and available, veterinary medicine will adapt and advance. Institutions like the veterinary teaching hospital will continue to invest in the tools that will help prepare students to perform during life-changing situations. Practitioners like Arendse will continue to hone their capabilities, and pets like Lily will have the chance to live a full life.

One look at the TikTok video shows how much Lily's owners appreciate Arendse and the team's work. Amid clips of Lily progressing from paralysis to play, her owners expressed their thanks and appreciation.

"Lily can run pain-free, and she can play, and she can jump and race in the wind; all because one courageous veterinary surgeon believed in herself and her team," Allison Smith, one of Lily's owners, said.

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