Dakota’s Run in the Woods – When a Team Comes Together to Save a Life

Written on January 10, 2019 by Team Contributors from Mass Vet Hospital: Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital

Every once in a while, a case comes to one of our hospitals (in this case Mass Vet) that is so complex that it requires the involvement of multiple departments, multiple specialists, and combines a significant blend of diagnostic and therapeutic technology.  In the case discussed below doctors and technicians from our Emergency, Critical Care, Radiology, Surgery and Client Care departments were all involved.

These cases, while sometimes horrific, are really where our teams shine.  We don’t just talk about the collaborative approach to our work, we pull together and work seamlessly towards one shared goal – a positive outcome for the beloved family member that we have been granted the privilege of caring for in our hospital.

Dakota’s Story:

Thursday December 13th started out as a normal day for Dakota, a 4-year old German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP), and her family. She was out for one of her daily runs in the woods. Unfortunately, the day took a dangerous turn when Dakota impaled herself on a tree branch while running through the woods.

Dakota’s owners saved her life by carrying her the mile and a half out of the woods to their vehicle. She was rushed to her regular veterinarian where she received pain medication and x-rays. She was then immediately referred to Mass Vet Referral Hospital in Woburn for further care. When Dakota arrived at Mass Vet, a portion of branch roughly 18 inches long and 3 inches in diameter was visible protruding from her armpit and entering her chest. [Some images are disturbing, click to reveal with caution].

warning - disturbing content, open with caution Dakota-CT
Dakota on arrival at the hospital Setting Dakota up on the CT scan


The primary concern for her at this point was determining how much damage had been inflicted to her heart, lungs, and major vessels from the stick.  It was also not clear at this point how far the stick had penetrated, or  whether it entered her abdomen.

After further stabilizing care, Dakota had a CT scan performed which showed that she had a pneumothorax (air in the chest causing collapsed lungs). The CT also confirmed that the stick had penetrated her diaphragm and entered her abdomen. Her pneumothorax was emptied, allowing her to breathe more comfortably, then Dakota was rushed to surgery.

Image-3.png warning - disturbing content, open with caution
CT images of Dakota’s injury Preparing Dakota for Surgery


In surgery, Dr. Kohler opened her chest, removed the stick, and sutured the hole in her diaphragm. She was very lucky that none of her vital organs were pierced by the branch. Dakota spent the next three days recovering from surgery in the ICU with chest tubes in place to ensure continued healing of her lungs. By the following day, Dakota, clearly a fighter, was able to walk and started eating.

dakota-afterDakota was discharged to her very relieved family on Sunday December 16th.  She is now home continuing to recover. Dakota will continue to be monitored for any signs of complications or infection, but so far she has exceeded everyone’s hopes of recovery.

Thanks to her family’s quick action, Dakota’s fighting spirit, and the medical teams involved with her care, she survived a terrifying accident and will get another chance to run in the woods.


24 Hour Emergency & Specialty

Boston West Veterinary Emergency and Specialty

Natick, MA 01760


Capital District Veterinary Referral Hospital

Latham, NY 12110


Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital

Woburn, MA 01801


Port City Veterinary Referral Hospital

Portsmouth, NH 03801


General Practice, Emergency & Specialty

Bulger Veterinary Hospital

Lawrence, MA 01843
ER: 978.725.5544 GP: 978.682.9905