Behind the Scenes: Restoring the Eyesight of a Diabetic Dog

A beautiful and heartwarming video went viral when a formerly blind dog got to see his family after undergoing surgery. The video (below) was posted to YouTube by Benjamin May. In the description, May talks about his dog Duffy.

“He's a rescue dog and he's had a lot of struggles with his health. He developed diabetes and lost his eyesight. With medication we got his diabetes stable and he qualified for eye surgery to give him back his sight. Here he is seeing my parents for the first time in months.” 

Wanting to know more about this amazing story, I did some research of my own and found out that the Veterinary Referral Center in Malvern, Pennsylvania, made possible Duffy’s renewed eyesight. Specifically, Dr. Brady Beale, the talented veterinarian who performed the procedure on Duffy.

I had a chance to interview Dr. Brady Beale about her clinic and the procedure. Find out what she said, and watch the video, below:

Q. Tell me what drove you to become a veterinarian?

A. My love for animals started when I [was] very young. My parents let me fill the house with dogs, gerbils, rabbits and fish, and each Christmas I asked for a special tool to make my stuffed animals come to life.  My summer jobs were always in kennels, zoos and aquariums.  I feel very fortunate to have found a career in the perfect niche that combines my love of animals, science and medicine.

I have been focused exclusively on disease of the eye since 2003. After graduating from vet school at UPenn and staying for a one year internship, I completed a 3 year residency in Ophthalmology at NCState.

Q. Could you tell me a little bit about your clinic?

A. I work within a multispecialty veterinary practice, and my work is limited to the diseases [of] the eye.  Most of our patients are dogs and cats but we can see rodents, rabbits, reptiles and others who might be suffering from a painful corneal scratch, infection, glaucoma or sudden blindness, to name a few. 

Q. Who is the dog [in the video]? And where is the dog from? 

A. Duffy is an 11 year old Irish terrier who was rescued by the May family when he was young. When we first met Duffy, he was blind from his diabetic cataracts and cowered in the corner of the exam room, quiet and frightened.  The YouTube video demonstrates his remarkable transformation once his vision was restored!

Q. What brought the dog to your attention and why was the dog blind?

A. Veterinary specialists work closely with the veterinarians in their community so when a family brings reports that their family pet has lost vision, their veterinarian refers them to a veterinary ophthalmologist to investigate the cause of blindness.  In Duffy’s case, the cataracts developed rapidly as a result of his diabetes. 75% of diabetic dogs will develop cataracts within 2 years of their diabetes diagnosis.

Q. When did [the surgery] happen?

A. The surgery to restore his vision occurred last January but the initial YouTube video was posted by their son in July.  The May family called us the day after the video first aired when the video had already been viewed 200,000 times.  We were excited at that point, and we had no idea that we were about the watch the tally reach millions of international views within just days!

Q. Can you tell me a little about the procedure?

A. We remove cataracts using the same state of the art machine that is used in surgery to remove cataracts in people. The primary difference is that our animal patients require general anesthesia so that the eyes can be perfectly still under the operating microscope. 

Once the cloudy cataracts are broken up and removed from the eye using the phacoemulsification energy, an artificial lens can be inserted into the eye.  Microscopic sutures that are more fine than hair are then used to sew the eye closed.  The patients are monitored very closely as they recover from anesthesia and then are able to see again by the time they wake up.

Q. How did the dog [Duffy] qualify as a candidate for this procedure?

A. Restoring vision with cataract surgery is an elective procedure to improve our patients’ quality of life so it is very important that they are otherwise healthy and can easily tolerate general anesthesia. [We establish] that a patient is healthy with a thorough physical exam and bloodwork [including] a chemistry panel and Complete Blood Count.  In Duffy’s case, it was important that his blood sugar from diabetes be well regulated by finely tuning how much insulin he received each day.  Once he had been cleared for anesthesia, he then underwent two tests to ensure that his retina was functioning well behind his clouded lenses.  These tests, the ultrasound of the eye and an electroretinogram, ensure that the eye is healthy for surgery and that he will regain vision immediately once the cataract surgery is completed.

Q. Has a similar situation ever happened before?

A. Restoring vision to blind pets is one of the most tremendously rewarding services that we are able to provide.  We love that we get to witness these post-operative family reunions every week!

I’m so excited for Duffy, and wish him and his family a “good view” going forward. If your dog is having vision problems, make sure to talk with your veterinarian right away. You may be referred to an amazing ophthalmologist like Dr. Beale, and this could be your happy dog!

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Reviewed on: 
Monday, August 3, 2015