July 16, 2012
By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer, Bay Area News Group
A Berkeley veterinarian and a Santa Cruz doctor on Monday announced a new lifesaving procedure for dogs poisoned by the deadly Amanita phalloides, or death cap mushroom, that was first tried on a pooch named Kasey earlier this month.
Veterinarian Mike Barlia at PETS Referral Center in Berkeley worked with Dr. Todd Mitchell, who is heading a nationwide clinical trial of an antidote for mushroom poisoning in humans, to save Kasey two weeks ago from what should have been certain death.
The two, at a news conference Monday, maintain the new procedure has never before been tried on any animal species, including humans.
The procedure on Kasey, a miniature Australian shepherd from Richmond, involved a long needle and syringe to draw toxins from the gallbladder, Barlia said. It could become standard for veterinarians racing against time to save dogs who eat poisonous mushrooms.
Although the procedure has never been tried on humans, it might be used in places where patients suffering from mushroom poisoning cannot get access to the new experimental antidote for humans, Mitchell said.
A similar procedure where toxins are drained from the gallbladder using a tube over a period of days has been used successfully in humans, Mitchell said, but it causes complications. By contrast, the new needle procedure provides instant drainage and doesn't need to be left in for a lengthy period.
He said he will be recommending the direct drain via needle, as it was done on Kasey, in the future.
The pairing of animal and human medicine started July 2 when Helen Abel and Dave Franklin brought their beloved dog to Berkeley to see Barlia. They had been in Anderson Valley in Northern California when Kasey, unbeknown to them, ate the mushrooms.
Barlia confirmed the dog was suffering from mushroom poisoning and likely would die.
"We were freaking out," Abel said. "They told us he was going to die. I cried."
Veterinarian Shea Cox, who also works at the Berkeley animal clinic, cried too.
"I told her there was no hope," Cox said. "He would either die or we would have to euthanize."
But Barlia didn't give up. On July 3, he called a poison control hotline for humans and was referred to Mitchell. The new experimental drug could not be used on animals, Mitchell told him, adding that humans had been saved by draining poison from the body through a surgical procedure.
"Mike wanted the drug but I had to tell him it wasn't available," Mitchell said. "I told him to find the gall bladder where the toxins accumulate, use a needle and syringe and drain it. Kasey is the first of any animal species, including humans, this was tried on. We will now recommend this for human poisonings where the trial drug is not available."
A couple of days later, the dog recovered. Abel said she now calls Kasey her "wonder dog."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408