Wednesday December 6 10:31 AM ET

Tiger Cub Will Undergo Heart Surgery

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A 5-month-old tiger cub named Karma is set to undergo heart surgery at a children's hospital in what is believed to be the first operation of its kind, a professor at Texas A&M University said.

Veterinarian cardiologist Sonya Gordon said that pediatric heart surgeon Charles Fraser was scheduled to repair a hole in Karma's heart on Saturday while the 45-pound tiger was anesthetized and hooked up to a heart-lung machine.

``It's probably the first time this surgery has been done on a tiger, and it is the first time a tiger has been on a heart bypass machine,'' Gordon told Reuters.

Fraser, chief of cardiac surgery at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, has performed the same operation many times but always on human babies, she said.

The surgery will be done at Texas Children's because Texas A&M, located in College Station, 80 miles northwest of Houston, does not have the necessary equipment.

Technically, the procedure on Karma should be about the same as it is on humans, Gordon said. ``A mammal is a mammal. All mammals have four chambers in their heart,'' she said.

Gordon said the most worrisome part of the operation was putting Karma on a heart-lung machine, to take over his heart's functions during surgery.

``Every species is different on the bypass (machine). The technical part of the surgery is very doable, but I worry about the fact this is the first tiger who has been on a bypass,'' she said.

Karma, who lives in an east Texas refuge for exotic animals, is short of breath and tires easily. The defect has stunted his growth and would kill him if left uncorrected, Gordon said.

But if the surgery goes well, Karma should have a full and healthy life, she said.

After the operation, the cub will stay overnight at the hospital, well away from his fellow patients but closely watched by medical staff, Gordon said. Then he will be taken to Texas A&M for postoperative treatment.

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