A heart start for Milkshake, the fainting goat

When Milkshake’s vitals were dangerously compromised, a team at Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center pinpointed the problem in the fainting goat’s heart, and saved her life.

On November 20, 2020, Milkshake arrived at Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center clinging to life.

A few hours earlier, the Tennessee fainting goat, just seven months old at the time, was acting the “spoiled princess she is” to owners Jessica Kurczeski and Kurczeski’s husband, Rick Bodine.

A veterinarian checks a fainting goats heart rate in a vet office.
Laurence Leduc performs an ultrasound on Milkshake during a follow-up appointment. (Image: Penn Vet News)

This human-animal bond is how, on a chilly November morning, Kurczeski knew something was wrong on the couple’s small Bucks County farm. Milkshake usually waits at her pen’s gate for the morning feeding. But she wasn’t there and didn’t come when Kurczeski called.

“She was lying under a spool barely breathing,” says Kurczeski. “Our field service veterinarian was on vacation and unable to get to our farm. She said to go immediately to New Bolton Center because it has all the equipment, technology, and experience animals like Milkshake need.”

A distraught Kurczeski loaded the barely conscious kid into her truck. “Time seemed to stop—the ride to New Bolton Center felt endless. Milkshake has so much spirit normally, and she was so quiet and clearly suffering,” says Kurczeski. “One of the Penn Vet staff called to check on us while I was driving. They were really concerned about Milkshake and about me and how I was doing. I really appreciated this.”

Roughly an hour later, Kurczeski arrived at the large animal hospital, where internal medicine resident Laurence Leduc and an emergency care team met her and Milkshake.

After ruling out something respiratory, Leduc and her colleagues stabilized Milkshake with intranasal oxygen and intravenous fluid therapy. Milkshake’s blood work showed a severely compromised state.

“I’ve never seen blood work so terrible—these results were absolutely incompatible with life,” says Leduc. “We knew this animal was dying and to understand why we performed a neurologic evaluation, thoracic radiographs, and an abdominal ultrasound, which were unremarkable. An ECG was also obtained and showed atrial fibrillation and marked tachycardia—her heart rate was extremely high and heart rhythm was abnormal—suggesting the heart was the root cause of her critical state.”

Overnight, Milkshake developed more arrhythmias, and her heart stopped several times. “We tried a few anti-arrhythmic medications before one of them—metoprolol—offered the first glimmer of hope,” says Leduc. “After one dose, Milkshake’s heart rate and rhythm stabilized around 130-140 beats per minute. This was a positive sign, although we couldn’t be sure she would survive.”

Facing a long, tenuous night, Leduc wanted to stay near her patient. “I rested on a cot in her stall until 4 a.m. When I left, she appeared more stable but had a long road ahead. She also had an extraordinary team of nurses supporting her all night.”

At home later that morning, Leduc woke to find a message from one of Milkshake’s nurses with a picture of the little goat standing.

“This was a great sign,” she says.

“Dr. Leduc sent me the photo,” says Kurczeski. “She had communicated with me throughout the previous day about Milkshake’s condition and prognosis so to see this picture of my baby girl was the best news I could get.”

“Milkshake was dying when she came into our care,” says JoAnn Slack, service chief of Cardiology and Ultrasound and consulting cardiologist on the case. “There is so much we can do when an owner is invested. It also helps when a patient is willing to let us do everything we need to. Milkshake was willing, and she is alive today because the pieces fell into place—the right care at the right time, committed owners, and a patient ready to live.”

This story is by Sacha Adorno. Read more at Penn Vet News.