Dog treated at UF survives sepsis from infection believed due to cat scratch

Suki send-off

Faculty and staff who helped care for Suki during her stay at UF’s Small Animal Hospital gathered to wish her well as she left the hospital on May 3. (Photo by Sarah Carey)

By Sarah Carey

The month of March was not kind to Brandi and Chris Hrebenak. Early that month, their dog, Suki, developed sepsis from a rampant infection believed to have been caused by a scratch from a stray cat, and wound up at UF’s Small Animal Hospital for two full months of treatment that included multiple surgeries and wound management.

The weeks that followed were a roller coaster with Suki’s condition, including decisions the Deltona couple needed to make about how far to go with their beloved pet’s care. As they desperately worked to set up fundraising sites and traveled back and forth to Gainesville to visit Suki during her hospital stay, Brandi lost her mother.

“This was one of the most trying times we have ever been through,” Brandi said.

Suki was discharged May 1 and given a good prognosis, although she is still regaining strength and her owners continue to bring her to UF weekly for bandage changes.

“We will be forever grateful to the entire staff from reception, to the doctors, technicians and students that tended to Suki,” Brandi said. “Because of these wonderful people, we’ve got our girl back.”

Suki’s journey began March 2, when the Hrebenaks first noticed she had a swollen ear. From that day to her admission to UF five days later, she had visited three other veterinarians, who ultimately recognized that Suki was septic and would need more extensive in-patient treatment and monitoring that only UF could provide.

Suki with care team

Chris and Brandi Hrebenak, center, with their dog, Suki, and members of her care team outside UF’s Small Animal Hospital on May 3. (Photo by Sarah Carey)

“Everything happened so quickly,” Brandi said. “During the first week Suki was at UF, we were hopeful. By March 14, she seemed to have been improving from all the treatments, which included the hyperbaric chamber, antibiotics, blood and plasma transfusions. We received a call that morning that she was looking better, and we would probably be able to bring her home later that week.”

But it was not to be. Later that same day, the couple received a call from UF’s care team that Suki’s tissue had become necrotic.

“We were told treating Suki would require debridement, and her chance of survival was slim,” Brandi said. “That evening was an extremely low point for us, hearing that she would require surgery to live and might not even make it through the surgery, and also that doctors would assess and could stop at any point, and we might have to make the decision to have her euthanized on the table or have her stabilized long enough for us to make the two-and-a-half hour drive to say goodbye.

“We were devastated,” Brandi said. “I called my mom and a good friend for guidance. Ultimately, we decided that Suki should have a chance; even though her body was failing her, she still had the spirit and the will to live.”

The next day, the couple were on pins and needles waiting for a call, afraid at any moment they would be informed Suki didn’t make it. But when Dr. Sophie Eiger, a small animal surgery resident, called, her news for the Hrebenaks was good.

“She told us the surgery went well, and they believed they removed the necrotic tissue,” Brandi said. “This same feeling would occur with each surgery Suki received: waiting for that phone call and all the while trying to remind ourselves that no news was good news.”


Suki at home, where she continues to recuperate.

On May 1, Suki was finally able to go home. That Wednesday, the Hrebenaks brought her back for a bandage change, and picked her up toward the end of the day.

“Our student mentioned there was a parade planned for her, but we were shocked,” Brandi said. “We weren’t expecting an actual parade where the audience was composed of all the wonderful UF personnel that contributed in helping with Suki’s recovery.”

Suki’s initial care team included Emergency and Critical Care faculty and staff, but as of March 15, her care was primarily provided by members of the Soft Tissue Surgery team, including technicians Mike Artaud and Aaron Huggins.

“Our amazing IC technicians, Kelly Foltz, Cassie Blair and Amanda Baldwin, absolutely went above and beyond to help Suki, providing round-the-clock care,” added Kaitlyn McNamara, another small animal surgery resident involved in Suki’s treatment.

The team used various wound management techniques, including negative pressure wound therapy, or wound vacuum therapy; multiple axial pattern flaps, or skin flaps; free skin grafts, also known as mesh grafting from a donor site; and bovine placental therapy.

“Our hope is that over the next few weeks, the remainder of her wound will heal,” Eiger said.

Brandi said Suki was on the mend, but there are good and bad days.

“She’s not quite at the point where she can resume normal activities and needs to be taken out in the backyard on a leash,” she said. “She lost a lot of muscle and still gets winded, but seems to be getting stronger each day.”

The Hrebenaks said they would always be grateful to the entire team from reception workers to the veterinarians, technicians and students who tended to their beloved pet.

“We can’t thank them enough for the love and compassion they showed, not only to Suki, but to us, during one of the most trying times we’ve ever been through,” Brandi said. “This experience has been emotionally, physically, mentally and financially draining.”

To assist with offsetting their costs, the Hrebenaks established a GoFundMe account and a FundRazr account.

“After unexpectedly losing my mother on March 31, I didn’t feel like I could go on at times, but I still had Suki to worry about,” Brandi said. “The last thing my mom was doing on this earth was sharing Suki’s story with as many people as she could, and in any way she could, in an effort to create awareness and also assist with our fundraising efforts.”

Her mother was a huge animal lover as well, Brandi said.

“She would have been so disappointed in me if I gave up,” she said. “Chris and I don’t have human children. Suki is a huge part of our family. We did what we needed to do for our furry child, and you can’t put a price on love.”

Share this article with others:
  • E-mail this story to a friend!
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • Twitter

May-June 2022

Dr. Zimmel

A message from our dean

A message from the college’s dean, Dr. Dana Zimmel.

Group Shot/Dist. Award winners

College’s 2022 Distinguished Award Winners announced

The college honored several outstanding veterinary practitioners and specialists in this year’s program.

Chris and Brandi Hrebenak with Suki

Dog treated at UF survives sepsis from infection believed due to cat scratch

Suki’s owners refused to give up on her, despite the challenges they faced.

Dog at ACAS

UF veterinary students gain shelter medicine skills through clerkship

The college has enhanced the offerings of its shelter program to better serve the local community while expanding student learning opportunities.

UF Veterinary Hospital at WEC

New UF Veterinary Hospital at World Equestrian Center now open

Ready access to UF’s veterinary expertise will benefit equine competitors and small animals on-site at WEC as well as from the local community.

UF CVM sign

Top research at college acknowledged during Phi Zeta Research Day

The two-day event featured poster and in-person presentations by house officers and professional and graduate students from the college.

...also in this issue



Around the College