Famous Cat Receives Rare Surgery at Purdue VTH

January 8, 2016

Mike Bridavsky and Lil BUB with Purdue veterinary surgeons Mark Rochat (left) and Sarah Malek.
Mike Bridavsky and Lil BUB with Purdue veterinary surgeons Mark Rochat (left) and Sarah Malek.

Veterinary surgeons in Purdue Veterinary Medicine's Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH) came to the aid of a very special cat, performing an especially delicate surgery that will enable Lil BUB to continue delighting her host of fans. Lil BUB returned to the VTH Wednesday (January 6) for a recheck that showed the surgery was successful and her prognosis is good for a full recovery from a broken elbow.

The story dates back more than four-and-a-half years, when Lil BUB, the runt of a feral litter, was rescued and given to Mike Bridavsky, of Bloomington, Ind. A recording engineer with his own studio, Mike realized that Lil BUB was a very special animal. She is a toothless, dwarf cat with an extra toe on each paw and a very rare bone disease in felines, called osteopetrosis, which makes bones abnormally dense and prone to fracture. With her medical challenges and unique personality, Lil BUB is described by Mike as "the most remarkable creature in the world."

Initially, Mike only shared about Lil BUB informally with friends through a blog. Lil BUB's fan base developed organically after that, and as Mike discovered and realized that his cat was a compelling advocate for animal health and well-being, a greater web presence was established, including on Facebook and the website http://lilbub.com/. As explained on her website, Lil BUB became "...one of the most famous cats on the planet," appearing on shows like Good Morning America, starring in an award-winning documentary, hosting a talk show, getting published as an author and helping raise more than $300,000 for animals in need.

In November, everything changed suddenly. Lil BUB slipped and took a minor tumble that would be inconsequential for other cats but, in her case, broke her elbow. Lil BUB's veterinarian, Dr. Art Woodruff (PU DVM '82), referred Mike to Dr. Kent Stauffer, a board-certified veterinary surgeon, who then referred the case to the Purdue VTH. That's when Dr. Sarah Malek, assistant professor of small animal orthopedic surgery, and Dr. Mark Rochat, clinical professor of small animal orthopedic surgery, got involved.

Not fazed by Lil BUB's stardom, Dr. Malek researched the case and, understanding the patient's unique needs, arranged for surgery using a very specialized miniature bone plate and screw system. With the help of Brian Gilbert and Maria Cunningham from DePuy Synthes, Dr. Rochat was able to have the Locking Compression Plate System overnighted to the VTH in preparation for the surgery. "Because Lil BUB's bones are fragile, we knew we had one chance to stabilize the broken elbow without further fracturing," said Dr. Rochat. Dr. Malek further explained, "The special screws cut their own threads in the bone, and lock the plate so that less is required of the bone while healing occurs."

Dr. Mark Rochat pauses for a selfie with Mike Bridavsky and Lil BUB in the VTH.
Dr. Mark Rochat pauses for a selfie with Mike Bridavsky and Lil BUB in the VTH.

After the surgery, Lil-BUB faced further challenges on recovery from anesthesia, requiring a temporary tracheostomy until she was able to breath normally on her own once more. "The ultimate success of the surgery would not have been possible without the diligent care of the VTH clinicians, veterinary technicians, and fourth-year veterinary students involved with her care," said Dr. Malek. "The emergency and critical care team led by Dr. Aimee Brooks, the anesthesia team led by Dr. Jeff Ko and the surgery team worked together to ensure the optimal recovery of Lil-BUB."

Dr. Malek added that at the seven week check-up, the elbow had healed sufficiently for the cat to resume her normal routine. "We believe this may be the first time this kind of surgery was successfully performed in a cat with osteopetrosis," Dr. Malek said.

Mike said what meant the most to him is how the VTH Team cared for Lil BUB like any other patient, with painstaking care focused on finding the best treatment for her special needs. "I was so comforted when Dr. Malek told me, ‘I did a lot of research...and this is what I think we should do,'" Mike said. "I knew she was really concerned for Lil BUB because she was a patient, not because she is a famous cat." After the check-up Lil BUB returned home to be with Mike and his wife, Stacy, who Mike says he actually met because of Lil BUB. More information about Lil BUB and her exploits are available on her website.

Writer: Kevin Doerr, pvmnews@purdue.edu

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