The heartwarming tale of little Leo the Lionheart


Leo, a kitten with a life-threatening heart condition was referred to see Mark Oakley at Kynoch Vets Yateley. Without advanced surgical intervention his condition would mean a very short life for him. However, due to the skill and care of Mark and David Potter at our Easthampstead surgery, things have turned out quite differently for him.

“This is another example of how we are able to provide a comprehensive service and collaboration between our various branches allows us to bring specialist care on a local level” affirmed Christopher Probert, partner at the Frimley branch of Kynoch Vets.

What follows is Mark’s own account of this extra-ordinary tale…

“Leonard first popped his needy furry head above the radar in May. On the face of it, he was just another kitten referred for a heart murmur. However, he came with promise having been referred by Thomas a valued colleague in Woking and he was accompanied by Pauline well known to me having brought ‘Simba’ an adult cat a year or so earlier for cardiomyopathy treatment.

Pauline arrived showing enthusiasm for a positive outcome and sympathy in equal measure, for our tiny  patient weighing just 0.8kg, was in the middle of a cat basket  having recently been with his mother and two other kittens. I examined the friendly confident tabby DSH kitten who submitted to handling and the all-important stethoscope, no doubt confirming what Thomas had suspected… ‘- Leonard is showing all the evidence for a PDA’ I said, continuing ‘- which stands for Patent Ductus Arteriosus, a communicating vessel between the main artery called the aorta and the Pulmonary artery  which has failed to close-down at birth. We’ll have to scan him and if I am correct he will surely go into heart failure within six months and need treatment, but would be expected to pass-away due to the condition before he reaches a year old.’ I next enquired ‘- how is he getting on at home?’ I was assured he was coping well and keeping up with the other two kittens and not looking any different really. So, here was dear Leonard a ‘ticking time bomb’ with certain disastrous outcome as most kittens with this condition do not make it as far as vaccination age even, such that I have only seen three in a nearly thirty year career. In spite of this, he looked like any other kitten, lively and playful, friendly, pleasingly easy to handle – such a worrying diagnosis, surely not!

So we clipped a patch of fur off each side of his tiny chest through which we could feel the unearthly continuous vibration caused by turbulence due to his PDA which replaced the normal steady but fast heart beat normal kittens have. Next came the best job of the day for the nurses, each competing for a chance to hold a kitten for a heart scan. ‘Amy’ was the lucky one and revelled in the opportunity to secure his tiny fury form. Leonard was unusually good and enabled me to scan and confirm the presence of a PDA without needing any sedation. Pauline’s understanding of a PDA was fast-tracked to realisation that Leonard’s future was hopeless without the theoretical opportunity to have a scary operation to enter his chest and tie-off this errant vessel by hand, for he was too small to have a key-hole approach and have a special occluding device deployed remotely by catheter into the PDA. Pauline was delighted that rather than I concede defeat and assume he would need to be euthansed to avoid later disappointment, that I would in fact look into it.

Not expecting to see Leonard again, I said goodbye to Pauline, then rang a few colleagues and got back to Pauline later that evening. I explained the best we could do was to do was to medicate him to keep him out of heart failure until he was at least 1.5kg and then maybe arrange for an operation, However, assuming an operation was out of the question, I explained that my wife Ros and I were offering to look after him whilst on medication until the day it was necessary to let him go and be put to sleep. Pauline took me by surprise and confirmed that her committee had made the decision that he should be offered the chance to be operated on. I listened while Pauline explained Leonard should receive ‘whatever was best for him’, even if there was a surgical and anaesthetic risk of failure, in which case on behalf of the Cats Protection, she would accept his death philosophically. So here I was with my mind working overtime with the exciting news  for Ros that we might be looking after Leonard for several weeks and having to find a surgeon to operate on him. Such an operation would be like ‘wiring the house with the mains switched on’!

Leonard had a weekly scan to monitor his worryingly enlarged heart which grew larger each time. All set to come home after a couple of weeks, we had a false alarm as he developed what might have been ‘ringworm’, however after the all-clear the exciting day came for Leonard to come home to Ros and I. Pauline lavished upon us every possible assistance to enable her new ‘fosterers’  to look after Leonard and make his stay with us as easy and as successful as possible – a collapsible pen to borrow, some food and cat litter and some toys he would like, some of which would become very firm favourites, especially the pink tunnel.

Leo in his pink tunnel

The evening we took him home was magical – on the one hand we had this delightful bundle of ‘energetic fun’ to look after weighing just 1.2kg and on the other hand we knew he was very ill really and could possibly die or fail to progress toward his target weight of 1.5kg for his operation. After an exciting evening introducing him to his new home etc, we settled him in his pen which he then climbed up on the inside – then I saw it, ‘the spotty underbelly’, he was part-Bengal! I was sure of it – what had we let ourselves in for I wondered! After a few days, he relaxed and settled in and my word he was lively, the extra-value aspect of his Bengal genes really showing, nothing stopped him not even his heart condition, charging from one end of the room to the other, threading himself at speed through his pink tunnel, dashing up to the scratching post for few seconds, then launching himself towards our ten year old Ragdoll as if to say ‘hello’, immediately throwing himself down in friendly submission, Sabrina wisely just yowling and hardly any reaction apart from an occasional uncommitted bat with a gloved paw. Leonard was a real live-wire and so friendly to us and Sabrina, he was also so compliant with receiving his considerable array of medication on which his life depended.

Showing off Leonard's spotty belly

Showing off Leonard’s spotty belly


After fourteen days of unrestricted vigorous interaction with his numerous toys, including a scratching-post and playing in his pink tunnel through which he would race at break-neck speed, he was ready for the operation, Leonard’s big day had arrived. If successful, there was every expectation of a normal life and even if he shouldn’t survive, he’d had two weeks of fantastic quality of life following the Cat Protection’s initial care.

Having delivered him into the care of David’s nurses at the Easthampstead surgery, we waited and prayed and hoped and at lunchtime the good news came through, that he’d made it without drama. Even following open-chest heart surgery, little Leonard at 1.45kg and just 13 weeks of age was home again that evening! (To read more details of the surgery, with photos click here.) After a delicate start, he went from strength to strength and after a week or so he’d grown out of his bright red medical tee-shirt and was almost back to full-speed.

With fur re-growth came increasing vigour and in early August 2015 already neutered and chipped, we adopted Leonard officially, aged four and a half months and he has been a growing delight  as he develops and evolves new ways of taking-on his environment as his lovely personality blossoms. Thank you so much to the Cats Protection, Pauline and Mary for rescuing Leonard aged four weeks, for Thomas referring him, then Pauline bringing him to us for a heart scan and for making sure he was able to receive the best possible care and for enabling us to adopt him. He is now going outside, still receives a limited amount of heart medication and his heart is contracting towards a more normal size. Every day with Leonard is a delight and an opportunity for a daily ‘fur-fix’!”

Leonard lounging on the bed

Leonard lounging on the bed


Leonard leaping

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