The Long Road to Recovery

When Layla, a three-year-old FS Pitbull, was admitted to the ICU in Iowa State University’s Hixson-Lied Small Animal Hospital in mid-April, the clinicians and students were understandably shocked.

Five days prior, Layla suffered massive burns in an accident at her home over 50% of her body.

“It was very shocking to see just how much tissue was gone from Layla,” said Haley Holbrook, a fourth-year veterinary student who was on the ICU rotation when the dog was first presented to the Iowa State team.

Dr. Rebecca Walton, clinical assistant professor and a member of the Hixson-Lied Small Animal Hospital’s Emergency Critical Care team, was on duty that day and remembers being surprised at how stable Layla was despite her massive injuries.

“It was pretty amazing how well she was doing with what all she went through,” Walton said.

Walton says the Iowa State team didn’t know the full extent of the dog’s injuries when she was first presented. Layla had been stabilized and cared for by her local veterinarian before she was referred to Iowa State.

The burns lead to severe systemic complications including infection and organ failure. That is in addition to the required procedures and surgeries needed to manage the burned areas.

This is new territory for Walton, Holbrook and the rest of the Iowa State team. Management of burn cases in veterinary medicine are limited due to the lack of cases, severity of the injury and cost associated with their treatment. Most of the literature on animal burn victims is limited to wildfires.

“This is our first burn case at Iowa State since Dr. (April) Blong and I have been here,” Walton said. “We’ve consulted with the burn unit in Iowa City and Dr. (Megan) Mickelson has spoken with a surgeon at Michigan State University to seek out the best care for Layla.

“None of us have done bandages like this on a dog before.”

Even with 24-hour care, it will be a long road to recovery for Layla. Walton and Mickelson estimate the dog will be in the ICU for weeks, if not, months to come. She faces a long rehab and multiple surgical procedures including skin grafts.

Layla’s mobility will more than likely be affected after she recovers and she might still lose her tail and one leg.

All of which makes an interesting teaching and learning moment at Iowa State. Holbrook, who will graduate in early May, has accepted a job as an emergency room veterinarian in the Omaha area.

“I’ve learned a lot about pain management, nursing care and how to deal with a sensitive case, all of which will be beneficial to me in my new job,” she said.

Throughout her stay in the Hixson-Lied Small Animal Hospital, Layla has had a team of dedicated professionals not only treating her, but truly caring for her well-being.

“We are invested in all of our patients and we give our best care to everyone,” Walton said. “However, Layla is special in the severity of her injury. Despite the critical illness and severe pain, Layla is a fighter and has the sweetest disposition. She continues to offer us a kiss and comfort in our emotional moments as we fight for her life.”

“Layla has a lot of life in her,” Holbrook said.

That, along with the tremendous support of her owner family, has made the long hours and frustrating moments  worthwhile for the Iowa State team.

“The owners are looking out for what is best for Layla,” Walton said. “We have a good relationship with them and are up front and honest about her care and treatment.”

Layla's Medical Team

Members of Layla’s medical team include:

Layla sleeping

Updates on Layla

Up-to-date information on Layla is available online