Christmas Miracle! Young Reindeer Receives Life-Saving Blood Transfusion From Brother

Little Buddy with Dr. Melissa Fenn. Photo by Stephan Wagner.

While Santa’s reindeer are most likely in the North Pole recovering from an eventful Christmas Eve, another reindeer named Little Buddy continues to recuperate on a small farm in Shortsville, N.Y.

Last month, Mike Schaertl was looking forward to Little Buddy’s first holiday season with his older brother Moose, when the five-month-old reindeer became gravely ill.

According to Sarah Bassman of the Cornell University Chronicle, Schaertl called his veterinarian, Dr. Michael Cary, also a reindeer owner, at the Towne & Country Veterinary Hospital. Cary immediately referred Schaertl to the Cornell University Equine and Nemo Farm Animal Hospital.

Tragically, by the time Little Buddy arrived, his condition had quickly worsened leaving him lethargic, open-mouth breathing and suffering from a high fever.

Dr. Melissa Fenn, Large Animal Internal Medicine resident, began stabilizing the ailing reindeer immediately with oxygen and fluids.

Initial bloodwork diagnosed Babesiosis, a potentially fatal parasitic disease spread by ticks. The parasite was invading and destroying Little Buddy’s red blood cells, making him severely anemic.

Fenn and her team ordered the appropriate medication to combat the parasite and monitored him closely overnight in the ICU.

Sadly, despite their efforts, the next morning, Little Buddy’s health had continued to deteriorate. Because of his anemia, there was an inadequate amount of oxygen being delivered to his tissues, a problem requiring a blood transfusion.

“We were very worried about Little Buddy,” noted Fenn in a statement issued by Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “Most reindeer that present to the hospital with this disease do not survive.”

While his prognosis was unclear for some time, WAN is thrilled to report that Little Buddy did survive but not without enduring a few scary bumps along the road to recovery.

Fortunately, Moose had traveled with Little Buddy to the hospital. Reindeer are social creatures who gain comfort from being in their herd, so Fenn knew that bringing in Moose, Little Buddy’s herd-mate, and half-brother, would ease his stress. Moose would also be able to donate the blood that Little Buddy badly needed for a transfusion.

Dr. Melissa Fenn (left) with Little Buddy (left) and Moose. Photo by Stephan Wagner.

The Cornell University Equine and Nemo Farm Animal Hospital are equipped to keep many species of large animals, though special care and consideration was needed for Moose and Little Buddy.

For example, bars and a grillwork on equine stalls would present some hazard to reindeer antlers and they could get stuck. The hospital retrofitted an existing padded stall normally used for horses with neurologic conditions.

The stall was also ideal because it was closest to the end of the barn, where the door could be opened to let in some cool November air. Little Buddy needed cold temperatures to be comfortable, so large box fans were hung in the stall as well.

After a week, the treatments including Moose’s blood transfusion had worked. He was more energetic, interactive, and there was no longer any evidence on his blood smear of the organisms that originally threatened his life.

Both reindeers were discharged with a clean bill of health and returned to their home in time for the holidays.

“We are extremely lucky to have a facility like Cornell’s so close by,” Schaertl said. “Our referring vet, Dr. Mike Cary, knew exactly what had to be done and he knew that Cornell was the best place to give Little Buddy a chance at surviving this almost always fatal disease. The superb staff at Cornell, led by Dr. Fenn, was in daily contact with us and Dr. Cary. Through their efforts, Little Buddy is still able to bring smiles to hundreds of children this holiday season.”

WAN has no doubt that many adults are smiling as well because of Little Buddy, Moose, their kind-hearted human father, Dr. Fenn and the tremendous, compassionate work that saved this little reindeer’s life, and the lives of so many other deserving animals.

Merry Christmas!!!

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