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Mighty Aphrodite: Groundbreaking Surgery Gives Aphrodite a Second Chance

Aphrodite's jet black fur and piercing green eyes are striking. Even more so is the rare and severe medical condition this young cat fought to overcome the first six months of her life.

At just eight weeks old, Aphrodite was surrendered to the Humane Rescue Alliance with her two siblings. The three kittens were transferred to a foster home for specialized care, where, unlike her siblings, Aphrodite struggled to thrive. On top of pneumonia and ringworm, Aprhodite's severe congestion and lethargy continued to affect her quality of life.

During a follow-up exam, HRA's medical team diagnosed Aphrodite with pectus excavatum, a congenital defect in which the breastbone is sunken in with a sharp S-shaped bend. Her condition was severe, making it increasingly difficult for her to breathe. 

"This was a very unusual case," said Dr. Suzanne Nelson, an HRA staff veterinarian. "The corrective surgery needed to help Aphrodite had never been performed at HRA's medical center, but we were committed to getting her the care she needed."

With support from seven third-year veterinary students throught HRA's partnership with the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech (VMCVM), the team got to work on determining a treatment plan for Aphordite. With oversight from former HRA veterinarian, Dr. Julia Petrovitch, who now serves as the on-site VMCVM faculty member, surgical correction of Aphrodite's severe pectus excavatum was performed.

"The students were monitoring anesthesia, providing suppport while placing the sutures, and some were cloesly watching for any jump on the monitors, which would indicate to me that there may be a problem," said Dr. Petrovitch. "They were instrumental in ensuring the surgery and post-op care were a success."

This surgery was something the students had never seen before. Most didn't know what this disease was - it's that rare, said Dr. Petrovitch. It was a great opportunity for them to get hands-on experience doing a case that is different, taking advantage of HRA's large and diverse caseload, and the unique aspects of shelter medicine.

During the corrective surgery, the team also discovered and removed a nasal polyp, which had undoubtedly been contributing to Aphrodite's difficulty breathing.

"She's a fighter," said Aphrodite's foster parent, Lita Valdez. "Going through each individual obstacle with her was certainly difficult, but despite her serious condition and multiple procedures and surgeries, her zest for life remains contagious, with everyone she meets falling in love with her."

Thanks to Valdez, who has fostered more than 75 neonatal kittens since 2015, many of them with specialized medical needs, she is now just the middle of Aphrodite's already incredible story. When asked why she continues to foster some of HRA's most vulnerable animals, her answer was simple: "Most of them wouldn't have made it without me."

And she's right. HRA's robust and generous network of foster homes makes it possible for us to care for more animals with a broad range of specific care needs - from orphaned kittens who need round-the-clock feedings to cats and dogs for whom the shelter environment is too stressful and does not allow them to exhibit their true personalities.

HRA takes in an average of 30 animals per day. The team works tirelessly to provide for all of the animals in our care, but our shelter space and resources are limited. Thanks to the critical work of fosters like Valdez, we are able to create a virtual shelter in the community for our most vulnerable animals. Coupled with our dedicated and skilled medical team, animals like Aphrodite are given the chance to thrive and live the full life they deserve.

Aphrodite's happy ending didn't stop at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She was adopted at our annual Clear the Shelters event by her new dad, Michael!


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