PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Clad in a wool sweater, a small black-and-white dog looked up from a chair in an interview room with a brown-eyed gaze that inspired pride in his owner.
“Daddy’s so proud of you,” M. Dylan Raskin said softly as he gave the dog a chew toy.
Esme, a Japanese chin, is recovering well from life-saving open-heart surgery at Cornell University in Ithaca. The procedure was the first of its kind performed on a dog in the United States.
In response to an email plea by Raskin, whose dog's life hung in the balance, Dr. Masami Uechi traveled with a team from Japan to operate on Esme.
Not only is the pup doing well, but his story has had some far-reaching effects.
Uechi will be returning to Cornell in January to perform the procedure on other canines, including William Ware's dog, Layla.
The Texan had contacted Raskin through the Press-Republican to find out about the veterinary surgeon.
After his next visit to Cornell, Uechi may return there every few months, as the university has a list of people whose dogs need the surgery.
And a veterinary hospital in New Jersey has also contacted Raskin and expressed interest in having Uechi perform surgeries there.
The cost of Esme's surgery — including bringing the vet to the United States, using Cornell's facilities and other expenses — wasn't cheap. Raskin took out loans and raised money on gofundme.com to come up with the $32,000.
As much as he had lived for the big day, reaching it brought his fears for his dog into sharper focus.
“When we arrived the day of the pre-op, it was a whole-day affair,” he said.
Raskin had numerous legal forms to sign — a depressing process for someone who was already anxious. The paperwork, he said, “all revolved around death.”
In addition, people at Cornell told him it was “a coin flip” as to whether Esme would even survive the operation.
“But then, I met Masami.”
While Uechi speaks some English, a Japanese veterinary student at Cornell served as a translator so they could communicate more freely.
He told Raskin that his success rate in Japan is 90 percent.
Uechi’s confidence was “very comforting.”
Working at clinics in both Japan and Singapore, Uechi, Raskin said, “does the procedure all day long — to him it's routine; it’s mitrovalve repair No. 414.
"He’s as professional as they get.”
Esme recovered very well from the procedure, and Uechi was confident that it was successful.
The dog will no longer have to be on medicine after he finishes his course of post-surgery blood thinners to avoid clots.
Raskin and Esme are enjoying long walks and trying to get active again after being sedentary for nearly a year.
“I had slept in my clothes for eight months,” Raskin said, adding that he had wanted to be ready in case he had to make an emergency run to the vet.
But one day recently, he returned home to find that Esme had mischievously gone through the garbage, just like he had done before he had health problems.
“I was celebrating," Raskin said. "It’s incredible how your perspective changes when you come close to losing someone.”
Chris Fasolino writes for the Plattsburgh (N.Y.) Press-Republican.