K-State's own Legend of Zelda: The ferret who got a pacemaker

Published: Jan. 31, 2017 at 9:59 AM CST
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The legend of Zelda just keeps on ticking.

Veterinarians at K-State broke new ground for the university's Veterinary Health Center and gave an Olathe ferret named Zelda a new lease on life. The university says the specialists performed the Health Center's first-ever surgical implant of a heart pacemaker in a ferret.

"Zelda's case was a great example of a group of us here at the Veterinary Health Center working together to solve a case that none of us could have tackled on our own," Louden Wright, an intern at the Veterinary Health Center who specializes in wildlife and exotic animals, said.

According to K-State, the battery in it is expected to last about ten years, which should allow Zelda to enjoy a normal ferret lifespan. Pacemakers are getting more common in other animal species, but very rare with ferrets.

"It takes a very special pet owner to be willing to provide this level of care," Veterinary Cardiologist Justin Thomason said.

Thomason, Clinical Associate Professor of Small Animal Surgery Emily Klocke, and Clinical Professor of Anesthesiology David Rankin performed the procedure.

"Dr. Klocke's work was truly magical," Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine David Eshar said. "There are only a few millimeters of space within the heart's wall for suturing the leads from the pacemaker. The pacemaker is the same as what would be used in a human patient, but we had to order a special set of leads for Zelda."

The leads are the wires that deliver the energy from the pacemaker to the heart muscle, they explained.

"This was the first time I had ever performed this particular procedure on a ferret, although I have performed it on dogs before," Klocke said. "I was very concerned about how small our patient was and whether I could successfully suture the pacemaker leads to her beating heart without causing severe bleeding."

"Our anesthesia service, led by Dr. David Rankin, was very instrumental in the success of this procedure," she added.

After the surgery, Zelda spent two days in the ICU (playing on a Nintendo, I assume), before she was released back to her owner, Carl Hobi, the University said. Her condition has steadily improved ever since. She's expected to return to normal soon and will come back for a check up next month.

Hobi had started to worry about Zelda, one of his three ferrets, last December when she wasn't eating and seemed to be lying down more than usual. A veterinarian at a local animal hospital gave her an EKG and found Zelda had a very low heartbeat. Hobi was told he should take Zelda to see a cardiologist at K-State's Veterinary Health Center.

Hobi took his business of ferrets to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, over Christmas and Zelda still wasn't doing well. A veterinarian there, Christopher Norkus, who had also been a resident in anesthesiology at K-State from 2012-15, ran some more tests and found "a third-degree atrioventricular block in her heart, which was responsible for the slow heart rate," according to Hobi.

Once they were back in Kansas, Hobi took Zelda to the University where they decided she was a perfect candidate for a pacemaker.