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Injured puppy may walk again,thanks to rare plastic surgery


Considering all that the little German shepherd puppy has been through, it seems entirely appropriate that her name turns out to be Lucky.

Abandoned by her owners and subsequently injured in a hit-and-run accident in Cape St. Claire, 17-week-old Lucky is now one of the few dogs to have undergone sophisticated plastic surgery.

"I've done some minor reconstructive surgery, but nothing on this level," says Arnold veterinarian Stephen P. Romero, speaking of the work he and Annapolis plastic surgeon Paul Buhrer did on Lucky last week.

Romero and Buhrer worked together to graft skin from Lucky's thigh to her back paws, which were damaged in the accident.

"To actually do plastic surgery at this level and sophistication is pretty uncommon," Romero says. "I've been in practice for three years and I've never heard of any case like this."

Lucky was taken to Romero by Cape St. Claire residents who witnessed the accident one night two weeks ago.

Jaye Steorts, of the 800 block of Chestnut Tree Drive, recalls that she was at home when she heard the screech of tires about 11 o'clock. She looked out the window just in time to see a car striking a small dog.

Steorts and several neighbors ran from their homes to help the puppy.

The residents ran back to their homes, opened telephone books and began calling veterinarians. The first veterinarian to return their calls was Romero, of the Bay Hills Animal Hospital. He also happened to be the nearest.

Steorts says she took Lucky to Romero and explained to him that the injured puppy had been abandoned, that she was in no position to care for it or to pay for its treatment. Steorts told Romero that she would accept financial responsibility for putting the dog to death.

However, Romero was able to determine that Lucky did not have to be euthanized and that the injuries were not life-threatening. He says he bandaged the puppy's wounds and went home.

When he returned to the office the next morning, he says, he had to fight his way through the crowd of people pleading for the dog's life.

Romero says he evaluated Lucky for several days to determine the best course of action to repair her wounds.

Lucky lost two toes and the large pad on the crushed hind paw. The other back paw sustained a "large degloving injury," or removal of a significant amount of the protective skin, Romero says.

Even knowing that a dog or cat cannot survive well with just three legs, Romero says, he was prepared to amputate the paw that had been crushed. But then, the veterinarian says, he realized Lucky was progressing well and the idea of a skin graft occurred to him.

Somewhat hesitant to do the procedure alone, and realizing it would go better if he had access to the special equipment plastic surgeons use, Romero solicited the help of Steorts, who happens to work in the office associated with Buhrer's practice. She put him in touch with the surgeon.

Buhrer consulted with Romero over the telephone the next morning, and was in his office that afternoon planning the operation.

Last Thursday morning, the two men shaved a section of skin from Lucky's hip and grafted it to her back paws. Even though the surgery took place only on her paws, both of Lucky's back legs are in a soft cast to make sure the skin graft is held tightly in place.

The casts do not stop Lucky from getting around. In search of affection, she drags her back legs across the floor to the nearest human.

Buhrer and Romero removed Lucky's casts yesterday to find that the skin grafts had taken well. Now, Lucky is wearing bandages on her feet that make it a lot easier for her to move around, Romero said.

While Romero is reluctant to discuss the financial aspects of the case, he says he has received about $200 from Steorts and other residents for Lucky's treatment and two-week hospital stay. That figure is far less than the normal cost. However, he says he considers the services to have been paid in full.

Romero says the pleasure of working on the case has been payment enough.

"It was really no different than operating on a human," Buhrer says. "It probably happens far more frequently than people realize.

"There are a number of procedures used on humans that can be used on animals as well. I have an Irish setter who has more plates and screws and wires in him than most people, and he's doing just fine."

Buhrer's dog was injured in a car accident a year ago and had to undergo orthopedic surgery to repair its pelvic bone.

As for Lucky, her luck is continuing. Steorts says a co-worker's sister offered to provide a home for the puppy on the Eastern Shore. She was to go to her new home today.

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