Fish skin used to help heal dog who escaped Michigan house fire with severe burns

'Stella's will to live was amazing,' veterinary technician said

Stella and the team that helped her. (Michigan State University)

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Fish skin was used to help heal a dog who sustained severe burns over 10% of her body while escaping a house fire in Lansing, according to Michigan State University.

Stella, a 1-year-old Rottweiler, was caught in a house fire while her owners were away. She had burns across her head, nose, ears, hind end and sides of her body. She also sustained severe smoke inhalation and respiratory problems. Both of her eyes developed ulcers and scarring.

She was brought into the emergency department at the Michigan State University Veterinary Medical Center on Feb. 13, and for two weeks she fought for her life.

“Stella’s will to live was amazing; she never quit fighting,” said Rose Wahl, a licensed veterinary technician who was there when Stella was brought in. “Her resilience and strength have astounded everyone who has worked with her.”

Veterinarians worked to stabilize Stella with fluids and oxygen. After she was stabilized, the MSU soft tissue surgery team began to work while ophthalmologists focused on her eye injuries.

“We had to get creative with her burns because of the significant trauma to Stella’s lungs,” said Brea Sandness, a veterinarian and surgical resident at MSU. “She wasn't a great candidate for anesthesia because of her respiratory injuries.” 

The team used descaled Icelandic cod fish skins on her burns to help her heal and regenerate tissue. The skins have high omega-3 fatty acids and anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties.

“We were able to place them on her with minimal sedation, which not only allowed us to heal her without additional stress to her lungs, but improved the way her burns healed,” Sandness said.

The grafts were absorbed by Stella's body as new tissue grew into the graft.

Stella's burns are healing well, but she still struggles with respiratory issues that could require attention for the rest of her life.

“Stella is one of the bravest and strongest patients I’ve ever encountered,” Wahl said. “Not only did she show incredible endurance and resilience, she has maintained a sweet and kind attitude throughout this whole ordeal.”

Stella’s case will be presented at the Society of Veterinary Soft Tissue Surgery convention in June.

“Stella’s case is an inspiration, and her grafts have the potential to be a new and highly effective treatment tool in the veterinary profession,” Sandness said. “She’s a living example that the fire within her burned stronger than the fire that injured her.”

More information and pictures are available on Michigan State University's website.

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