Click through the gallery for before and after photos of Phil, the spunky kitten.
A little kitten with a big personality underwent an unusual surgery to save his eyesight at Boston’s Angell Animal Medical Center last month.
Phil, the homeless kitten, was born without upper eyelids, meaning he could not blink and lubricate his eyes, according to Rob Halpin of MSPCA-Angell. (The medical name for this congenital defect is agenesis, Halpin said.) Apart from causing eye irritation, Phil’s condition, if untreated, would lead to blindness.
But luckily, the MSPCA’s Alyssa Krieger discovered Phil in a city shelter and shipped him over to Angell.
According to Krieger, Phil is a special kitty.
“I was immediately struck by Phil’s personality, in addition to the unusual situation surrounding his eyes,” she said. Although he suffered from a painful eye irritation – brought on by the fact he couldn’t blink – Phil seemed determined to look on the bright side.
“We were eager to get him back to Angell where we knew he could get the operation he needed to save his sight,” Krieger said.
The prognosis depended on whether doctors could reconstruct the missing eyelids, Halpin said.
Dr. Martin Coster, of Angell’s Ophthalmology Service, came up with the plan to remove tissue from Phil’s lip and patch it to the muscles that control blinking, Halpin said.
The rare technique meant virtually going from the slip of a lip to the blink of an eye.
“A cat’s upper eyelid is very similar in form and function to the tissue in their lip,” Dr. Coster explained. “By taking some tissue from Phil’s lip and attaching it to the muscles that enable him to blink, we can, in effect, reconstruct his missing eyelids.
Dr. Coster operated on Phil on Dec. 9 and has said he’s been pleased with Phil’s progress.
One week later, Phil was up to his old tricks. Most important, he has gained the ability “to blink and lubricate his own eyes,” Halpin said.
Now, he’s looking for a new home with room for his best friend forever, Vixen.
They were together in a city shelter in Roslindale, Mass., when Krieger found them and rescued them. She believes the cats should stay together.
“They are the best of friends and, especially at this delicate stage of Phil’s recovery, we want to do all we can to keep the two of them together,” she said. People who want to adopt can email the MSPCA at firstname.lastname@example.org, she said.
The Gabby Dog stumbled across Phil’s story along with several recent items about pets at risk of losing their vision or already blind.
For instance, Annie and Kodie, two blind, deaf and all-white collies, are currently in foster care with the Collie Rescue League of New England (http://www.collierescueleague.org/adoptables). They’re a brother and sister bonded pair, age 7.
Two of Gabby’s best pals, Mr. Magoo (Mr Magoo Who The Blind Kitty Who Stole My Heart on Facebook) and Lucius (Life With Lucius on Facebook), are both blind cats due to a congenital condition called microphthalmia (small eye). Both have adjusted to their handicap and have inspired pet lovers to adopt a blind animal. Lucius even volunteers as a pen pal at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver and encourages youngsters to overcome their medical challenges.
Initially, Stephanie Rosales, who rescued Lucius, had doubts she could handle caring for a blind animal. She also had to search for a vet willing to treat her kitten. One vet recommended euthanasia. She refused.
Given that experience, The Gabby Dog is delighted to see more local veterinary hospitals and small practices are bringing an eye specialist on staff. A journalist pal suggested a story after she received a message from a Seacoast veterinary hospital reminding people about taking the dog and cat for an eye check-up. Although Lucius, Mr. Magoo and the collies lost their vision due to birth defects, other pets are at risk from glaucoma, cataracts and treatable problems. Phil benefitted from surgery, but sometimes, medication and therapy will do the trick, according to the Veterinary Emergency Critical Care & Referral docs in Newington, NH.
How to Help
“Phil’s surgery was paid for through Spike’s Fund, which provides emergency medical treatment for homeless animals living in the MSPCA’s Boston adoption center,” Halpin said. To donate, go to http://www.mspca.org/adoption/boston/donate/spikes-fund.html.
Margo Ann Sullivan is a pet columnist who has written for ZooToo, and numerous publications in New York and in New England. She’s had pets all her life, starting with a rescue collie named Lollypop. The Gabby Dog column chases the news that helps pets and people. It also chronicles the adventures of Gabby, the peke-a-poo, and Asia, the tabby cat, and their many pals, hitting the high spots between Providence, RI, and Manchester, NH.