This is not what is typically meant by an “eye for an eye.”

One dog’s loss of an eyeball helped save another dog’s eye at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital last month.

Clinicians with the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech used corneal tissue from an eyeball lost by a dog brought into the hospital’s emergency room hours earlier, with consent from the owner, to replace that taken during a surgery to remove cancer from the eyeball of another dog.

“It was serendipity that a dog came the night before that lost its eye,” said Daniel Rothschild Ph.D. ’18, DVM ’21, a resident at the teaching hospital involved in the surgery. “We try to do the same thing with corneal tissue transplant as we do in people, but in dogs, we don’t have donor tissue. The stars aligned in this case.”

Small dog.
Susie Q who received eye surgery at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Photo by Andrew Mann for Virginia Tech.

Jim DePierro of Moneta in Bedford County took his 2-year-old morkie poo (Maltese, Yorkie, toy poodle combination) Susie Q for a routine veterinary exam. It looked like everything was fine until the veterinarian checked Susie Q’s eyes.

“The veterinarian said ‘I don’t like what I’m seeing,’” DePierro recalled. A second veterinarian also took a look.

“The veterinarians said Susie Q had a malignant tumor, a melanoma, on her eyeball,” DePierro said. “They’ll probably end up taking the eyeball. I almost fainted.”

Susie Q was referred to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, which contacted DePierro the next day and set up an appointment the following week. Upon examination, clinicians at the teaching hospital told DePierro they could save the eye because cancer had not reached the inside of the eye yet.

On the day surgery was set, DePierro got a surprising message from the hospital.

“We got very lucky, we had another dog brought in that had to lose its eye,” DePierro said.

The first dog’s eye popped out of its socket and could not be re-inserted. But corneal tissue from that eye was viable for use in Susie Q’s eye. A patch derived from pigs is normally used rather than live canine eye tissue.

Ian Herring M.S. ’98, assistant director of the teaching hospital and associate professor in ophthalmology, led Susie Q’s surgery, with Rothschild assisting.

“I've done this surgery a number of times, but I never before used corneal tissue from another dog to do the repair,” Herring said.

The surgery team removed the tumor and eye tissue around the tumor, using a laser to kill some of the tumor tissue that could not be fully removed from the sclera, then replaced the missing corneal tissue with a graft from the other dog’s lost eye.

More than a month later, Susie Q appears to be doing fine in recovery, never having relinquished her loving, active personality, which made her a popular dog among the students and interns at the hospital. With compassionate care funding helping offset the cost of the donor dog’s bill, Susie Q’s new lease on life was truly a community effort.

“Susie Q has a very special personality,” DePierro said. “She has to be on someone’s lap at all times.

“They did an amazing job.,” DePierro said. “Virginia Tech has been fabulous. I never thought that anyone would take the time to save the eye.”

Written by Kevin Myatt, Writer/Editor for the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

Man holding a small dog.
Susie Q and her owner, Jim DePierro, in front of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Photo by Andrew Mann for Virginia Tech.


Andrew Mann
Director of Communications and Marketing