Manchester Veterinary Clinic

156 Spencer Street
Manchester, CT 06040


His Name Was Harry

Publish Date: 6/28/2018 1:35 PM

By Dr. Atz

Harry Potter 2012 - Manchester Veterinary Clinic - CT

We spread Harry’s ashes this past spring (2016), taking advantage of both of our boys being home, something that doesn’t happen all that often now that the older son is living in California. Harry’s ashes went into his favorite spots around the yard as we eulogized him, laughed, and of course, shed tears. But this is not a story about loss or sadness. Rather, it’s one of great fortune and ever-lasting gratitude.

I’ll begin with Harry’s full name which was Harry Potter. Born in 2003, he got his name not just because our boys were reading those magical books but because he actually earned it. Like the Harry Potter character, we say that our Harry was marked at birth for death and it seemed like a miracle that he survived. Let me explain.


Kitten Harry recovering from surgery in his bottle and protective sweater - Manchester Veterinary Clinic - CT

I first met Harry, the stray kitten, when he was brought in by a client who was not able to provide him a forever home. I remember him being incredibly sweet and gentle, packing a big purr and an adorable face. Not long after that, I got a Sunday afternoon call from my young veterinary associate, telling me that she was at the clinic with the kitten who was having a hard time breathing, that she had taken radiographs and that she had the kitten on oxygen. On my way to the clinic, I contemplated all the bad things that could be causing a young kitten to be in respiratory distress. Most of them were not good.  Would humanely ending the kitten’s life be the kindest option? After examining the kitten and the radiographs of his chest it took me a few moments to figure out what didn’t look right.  And then it hit me: pectus excavatum. The English version? His sternum was pushing up into his chest and not allowing his chest to expand or his lungs to fill with enough air. He had outgrown his chest space and he was suffocating. His body was designed all wrong, with his chest wall being flattened top to bottom (like a human normally is) rather than side to side. Marked at birth, not expected to live.


Treatable? Treatable in a stray kitten with no definite owner or home? Sweet kitten. Off to the books I ran in this pre-internet search era and then off to a journal article referenced in one of the textbooks. Finding the journal in my office was a small miracle in itself. And there was the fix: pull his sternum out by suturing it to a rigid half cylinder and have him live in the stenting cylinder for a few weeks until his sternum and rib cage stretched into a better position. This was as risky as anything I had done to date. Go for it? Sweet kitten, marked at birth. I went for it.


A flurry of preparation ensued while the kitten continued to need oxygen: call in the technician, Amber; find the right pill bottle in the recycling bin and saw it in half lengthwise to make my half-cylinder stent; anesthetize the kitten; shave and surgically prep the chest area; breath for the kitten to get enough oxygen into his compressed lungs. And then the moment of truth, actually six of them, as I passed a needle with attached suture around three lower ribs on each side of his sternum, trying not to pierce a lung with each pass. I’d tell Amber to stop breathing for the kitten to minimize lung size (we held our breath, too) and I’d swing the needle around each of the six ribs. Good fortune was still with us.

Kitten Harry already looking for belly rubs - Manchester Veterinary Clinic - CT


After lining up the half bottle, drilling holes for the sutures and passing them through the holes, I tied the kitten’s chest into his new stent.  Time to turn the anesthesia off. Would he be able to breathe on his own? Yes.  Would he eventually wake up enough to be able to breathe without the plastic tube in his windpipe? Yes; another good sign. Could he breathe okay and stay oxygenated with pink gums without oxygen? No.


Young adult Harry being indulged.  Got milk? - Manchester Veterinary Clinic - CT

And so I waited. I sent Amber home. I waited. I called home and said eat dinner, and later, go to bed, without me. I waited. He still needed the support of the oxygen. Evening turned into night and midnight came and went. The early morning hours wore on. He slept on, breathing his oxygen. I waited. I talked to him. He didn’t say anything back. Eventually, a few hours before I needed to be back at the clinic for work, I told the kitten that it was now or never, that it was time for him to live on room air or not.  Though still asleep, he finally seemed stable without the oxygen mask so I packed him up in a cozy carrier, this little kitten in a bottle, and brought him home in the wee hours before dawn. I set the carrier up in the warmth of our bathroom and trundled off to bed, uncertain what dawn would bring.


And there was that adorable face in the morning, mewing softly. He was waiting for breakfast. Marked at birth, not expected to live. The rest is not so much history as an everlasting joy. The kitten spent the next few weeks in his bottle. We adopted him because who else would take this poor little malformed, bottled kitten, with a still uncertain future? Our youngest son, Emil, named him Harry Potter.


He “became” Emil’s cat, typically going to sleep each night with Emil, watching over him as it were. He would make the rounds as everyone went to sleep at night (he became a fierce chaser of toes that moved under blankets) but he preferred Emil’s bed. I like to think that he watched over all of us.

His standard greeting was to walk up to you, circle for a moment, and then plop (literally) on his side and wait for his belly rubs. He grew into an incredibly long cat and there was a lot of belly to rub.  We always obliged.

Spooning with his boy Emil while watching over him - Manchester Veterinary Clinic - CT


When Emil went off to college, Harry took to sleeping with us, mostly spooning (he was the little spoon) with my wife. Even as an old man and moving slowly with heart failure and arthritis, he would still greet me on the nights I came to bed late. I’d crawl quietly into bed, hear his meow, feel him walk over to me and plop down against me, purr going strong. I would rub his tummy or anything else I could reach, and as I did thousands of times before, I’d thank him for being a miracle kitty and surviving, for staying with us and watching over us.


Harry Potter 2014 - Manchester Veterinary Clinic - CT

Veterinarians sometimes joke about the “Great Case Dispenser in the Sky,” that higher power that decides what form of critter or illness may come our way.  I hit the jackpot with Harry Potter. I thank that spirit every time I think of Harry. It’s not really that often that a general practitioner gets to truly save an animal’s life. More often than not, we act more as helpful observers, helping bodies to heal while monitoring the process. But I actually saved Harry’s life and he rewarded my family and me with the joys of his purr, belly rubs and companionship. For that I will always be thankful, grateful and happy.


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