Because of his heart surgery, this kitten eats standing up.

Photo credit : Humane Society Silicon Valley

When this little kitten was rescued, she had difficulty separating from her bottle and feeding herself with “real” food. Everybody then deduced that it was because she had lost her mother and was simply having trouble adapting.

They couldn’t imagine there was a more serious reason: a rare, life-threatening malfunction of her heart. By the age of four weeks, Maxie and her siblings had been rescued from a shelter that didn’t have the resources to take good care of them, thanks to a charitable organization. They found a foster family and an experienced and humane “foster mother” to look after the litter.

The kittens all looked healthy – except for little Maxie who began to have difficulty eating. “Her foster mother kept telling me that Maxie couldn’t eat anything without regurgitating it afterwards. Her instinct was to bottle-feed her, which saved her life,” says veterinarian Dr. Carol Campbell.

Further research uncovered the real problem: Maxie suffered from a rare heart condition called “persistent right aortic arch,” often abbreviated to PRAA. Because of this condition, her heart had ended up encroaching on her esophagus, preventing her from swallowing. The veterinarians had never seen an identical case, but they knew that if nothing was done, little Maxie would have no chance of survival.

The organization’s veterinarians therefore attempted open-heart surgery on the little kitten, even though she was only eight weeks old. “Every time you open your chest and operate within a few millimeters of the heart, it’s extremely risky. However, all these reservations didn’t stop us from trying. We knew we had the skill to do it and we did our job to try and save his life,” the veterinarian continued.

This revolutionary operation lasted more than two hours. Each veterinarian worked tirelessly to open Maxie’s chest and remove part of her heart so that her esophagus could have the space it needed. Against all odds, the operation was a success: the little cat survived.

This little cat eats like a kangaroo!

Within only two weeks, Maxie had almost completely recovered but due to a blood clot caused by a complication, her tail had to be amputated, which prolonged her recovery time. Because of her operation and the way her insides are built, she had to learn to eat by standing upright for a while. In addition, she is only able to eat the softest pates. Even so, Maxie remains a cat full of life.

“Maxie will always be a little different. She has to eat standing up like a kangaroo and her diet consists entirely of soft food. But she is lucky to be able to live completely and happily now: she plays, sleeps and messes things up like a normal kitten,” said Finnegan Dowling, one of the association’s leaders at the time.

Since then, Maxie has returned to her foster family to recover from her operation, which quickly put her up for adoption. Before finally deciding that they couldn’t part with her, they chose to adopt her themselves. The cat can now eat almost like any other cat and becomes more resistant every day. “Now that she has grown up, the result continues to improve. We hope this will continue until she becomes an adult cat,” adds Campbell.

Maxie’s adoption is not the only happy ending to this story. Through her case, the organization’s veterinarians learned how to treat her disease and were able to help another kitten who was suffering from exactly the same heart dysfunction.