As Jack and Victoria take a walk outside in the crisp winter air, their dog Penny leaves behind her paw prints as she dashes around in the snow. It’s an amazing sight for the couple given the fact that their beloved dog underwent a complicated eye surgery less than two months ago which required a corneal transplant to treat an eye tumor called limbal melanoma surgically.
Every cancer surgery case is special. However, Penny’s case was incredibly exceptional because Jack and Victoria did everything they could to save Penny’s remaining eye. They rescued their five-year-old Catahoula mix dog after their daughter discovered a stray during a run near Claremont Hills Wilderness Park in 2013.
Jack and Victoria rehabilitated a very underweight Penny. But to their dismay, the one thing that would not heal was her deteriorating right eye.
“During this time, we went to a veterinary hospital that wasn’t California Veterinary Specialists (CVS). The doctors there said that Penny’s eye issue could have been from either a blow or systemic internal infection,” Victoria said. “We tried everything. And after six weeks of treatment efforts in trying to save her eye, we ended up having to have it removed.”
When Penny was diagnosed with limbal melanoma in her left eye, which first appeared as a black spot just below the iris, the couple moved heaven and earth to save it. They chose to take Penny to Dr. Jennifer Sheahan at California Veterinary Specialists in Ontario.
Following a comprehensive exam, Dr. Sheahan confirmed that Penny had limbal melanoma.
“We were very impressed with Dr. Sheahan. She was very professional and kind in explaining the procedure,” Victoria said.
Jack conveyed how Dr. Sheahan described the surgery in detail as well as the aftercare.
“When we called the office with questions before and even after the surgery, she would get back to us right away,” he said.
The first time Dr. Sheahan met Penny and her pet parents, she performed a slit lamp biomicroscopic exam.
“This is important so we can look at the anterior segment of the eye, meaning from the area of the eye between the lens and retina. It can magnify whatever we’re viewing at least ten times,” Dr. Sheahan said. “The second part of the exam was an indirect ophthalmoscopic exam to look at the retina. The back of her eye looked fine.”
Dr. Sheahan explained how a metastatic type of melanoma could show signs in the back of the eye, as well. This is why a complete exam of the eye was so vital.
“Based on this exam, the appearance of the lesion, and the back of her eye looking pretty normal, I diagnosed Penny with primary limbal melanoma,” she said.
Penny’s surgery took roughly three hours to perform, and Penny tolerated the procedure very well. A cornea and scleral (the white outer layer of the eye) transplant was necessary, Dr. Sheahan explained, because following the tumor removal, the graft was utilized to cover the defect and avoid perforation.
“I was also able to laser the surgery bed area after I removed the tumor to try to get any residual tumor cells that I was not able to excise,” she said.
Dr. Sheahan is happy to report that there is no sign of any cornea transplant rejection. And if there were, it would have happened by now.
“Penny is comfortable, and she’s visual,” she said. “Penny is a very sweet dog. Her owners are very committed, and I’m very grateful that they gave me this opportunity to help her maintain her eyesight.
In the same breath, Dr. Sheahan described the surgery as incredibly gratifying.
“This was a special case, and I’ve become very close with Penny and her family — it’s just the most fantastic feeling, and this is why I do what I do,” she said.
For Jack and Victoria, bringing Penny to CVS was the best decision they made. Their dog is flourishing.
“We are so very lucky to live in a world where smart people are doing great things when it comes to cancer treatments and surgeries,” they said. “For those who have pets diagnosed with cancer, we say to investigate options and don’t give up hope.”