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IRVINE : Surgeon Is Sebastian’s Best Friend

Peering into a microscope, Dr. James Boggan talked to the tumor he was trying to extract from his patient’s brain.

“We’ve got just a tad bit more here,” he said, his voice muffled by the steady beep of a heart monitor.

A team of five doctors and nurses stood by watching on the television monitor as Boggan, a neurosurgeon from the UC Davis School of Medicine, delicately placed a suction tube into the 5-inch incision.

The operation was made more delicate because the patient, though only 13 years old, was elderly. It was the second time that Sebastian, a miniature schnauzer, had to undergo surgery to get rid of a growth on his brain.

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A year before, a tumor was detected and removed with conventional radiation treatments and surgery. But a few months ago, when the normally feisty dog started having seizures and acting sluggish, his owners, Karen and Bret Stagg of Hawthorne, knew it had returned.

So they took Sebastian to the Beckman Laser Institute, where on Wednesday a team of doctors using the latest in laser technology worked for nearly four hours to extract the nickel-size abnormality.

“So many people said he is so old, just put him to sleep,” said Karen Stagg, who cried after hearing that her dog survived the tricky operation. “But that was just not an option. If it was your child, you would do it too.”

Although the surgery was free, the Staggs still had to take out a loan to cover many related medical expenses, including hospital stays and veterinary bills. Karen said she and her husband have spent thousands on the dog over his lifetime, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.

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“I can’t give up on a dog that doesn’t give up on himself,” she said.

If Sebastian were a cat, his nine lives would almost be up. Throughout his life, he has suffered recurring bouts of hepatitis and had several growths under his skin removed. But the brain tumors proved most difficult to tame.

Known as meningioma, the abnormal growth affects tissues just below the skull. Although not malignant, it disturbs neurological functions and eventually can lead to death.

The tumor operated on by Boggan was located near the crown of Sebastian’s head at the cortex, which made it relatively accessible to the laser surgeon. The surgery marks the first time that the institute has performed the brain procedure on a dog. In the past the laser surgery has been used to remove growths, but not from the brain.

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During the procedure, smoke and steam rose from the incision as the silent laser shot its deadly red carbon-dioxide beam into the tumor. The surrounding tissue was left blackened and charred by the heat. After almost four hours of zapping, Boggan, assisted by a team of doctors including local veterinarian Diane Craig, finally sewed Sebastian back up and wrapped him in his favorite yellow blanket.

He was still a little groggy from the anesthesia when the Staggs were finally able to see him.

“It’s OK,” Karen whispered into his ear while fighting back tears. “You’ll be fine.”

Discounting the shaking that is a normal reaction to the anesthetic, Sebastian seemed to be recovering well after the lengthy procedure. Doctors warned, however, that the next 24 to 48 hours would be critical.

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But both the doctors and the Staggs seemed pleased with the results.

“Oh God, thank you so much,” Karen Stagg said, hugging the doctor. “He is a tough dog. We knew he would be fine.”


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