COLUMBUS (WCMH) – In 2011, Darrell Victor was taking nearly two dozen pills and attending twice-weekly counseling sessions to cope with the anxiety, depression, and PTSD he developed after traumatic experiences serving in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam era. 

When he discovered a scared, 12-week-old puppy hiding under his car that September, Victor began a journey to healing he was never able to find from the medication and therapy. He and his wife Rhonda, another Navy veteran who suffers from similar mental health issues, adopted the stray lab-shepherd mix and named her Blondi.

“She senses things that I don’t,” Victor said. “It made me feel very important to her.”

The renewed sense of purpose bonded the Victors with Blondi. They drew her out of her shell and in return, she helped ease their anxiety. Darrell Victor began walking 7 miles daily with the dog.

“I finally felt like I could be somewhere without being self-conscious,” Victor said. “She made me feel good and confident. I didn’t even know I had that in me anymore. But she brought that out.”

This year, when the Victors’ now 10-year-old companion began coughing and having trouble breathing, they felt compelled to find any solution to soothe her discomfort. Eventually, screenings at the OSU Veterinary Medical Center revealed a large tumor growing in their beloved dog’s throat.

Victor said, “It stung me and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness.’”

The rare, cancerous tumor on Blondi’s windpipe was obstructing her airway and her care givers realized, if unaddressed, the condition could become life-threatening. The location of the mass would make such a surgery complex and require a specialized team to delicately remove the tumor while protecting the nerves controlling her larynx, airway, and swallowing functions.

Laura Selmic, BVetMed (Hons), a surgical oncologist with Ohio State’s Veterinary Medical Center, reached out to Dr. Desmond D’Souza, a thoracic surgeon at The James Cancer Hospital for a second opinion on Blondi’s case. D’Souza and his colleagues regularly treat human patients with complex cancerous masses in the lungs, trachea and other structures in the chest cavity.

“She looked at me like she looked at me when she was under the car – desperate,” said Victor. “She wants to still live.”

Fortunately for the Victors and Blondi, the OSU Veterinary Medical Center sits less than a mile from another team of doctors who specialize in such cases. Blondi’s surgical oncologist enlisted help from Dr. Desmond D’Souza, a thoracic surgeon at the Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center at the James.

“This tumor is rare, even in human beings,” said Dr. D’Souza, explaining his team may operate on 2-4 cases a year. “It’s unusually rare in animals. And it’s even rarer that, if found in an animal, the owners would be willing to go the distance to have such an extensive operation on a dog.”

Dr. D’Souza agreed to the procedure at the OSU VetMed and spent several weeks preparing with the team of human doctors and veterinarians.

“We planned this weeks ahead. So we reviewed scans, we were on multiple Zoom calls together,” he said. “I did a little reading on dog anatomy before I went in there.”

He explained many of the surgery principles from his typical practice applied to Blondi’s procedure, but he had to familiarize himself with canine anatomy and collaborate with the OSU veterinarians on techniques.

“It was a really unique opportunity to step outside our boundaries of the human world,” D’Souza reflected. “[It was] such a success story of collaboration between two cancer centers: the James Cancer Center where I work and the Surgical Oncology Center [at the OSU Veterinary Medical Center].”

Within four hours of successfully removing Blondi’s tumor at the OSU Veterinary Medical Center, the dog was walking already upright, walking and well on her way to recovery.

“You’d never see that in a human being,” laughed D’Souza.

Darrell and Rhonda Victor were overjoyed to learn the procedure was deemed a success.

Darrell Victor said, “What a miracle to help her. How wonderful it’s going to be to have her again, keep her longer. It made me feel joyful.”

One month after the procedure, Dr. D’Souza said it was a profound experience.

“It was probably one of the most rewarding experiences of my surgical career and I’m so glad that she did well,” he said.

The Victors reported a promising recovery. They’re looking forward to spending as many years as they can with their beloved companion.

“What a miracle to bless me again with a little more time,” Darrell Victor said. “That’s all I’ll ever need.”

The surgeons involved in Blondi’s procedure plan to share their experience and techniques in a peer-reviewed medical journal. They said they’d be glad to collaborate in the future.

To learn more about oncology services at the Ohio State Veterinary Medical Center, visit http://vet.osu.edu/vmc/.

To learn more about cancer services at the OSUCCC – James, visit cancer.osu.edu.