Andi and Michaela have a nerve-wracking wait while their Rhodesian Ridgeback, Tilly, undergoes a high-risk operation to relieve the pressure on the nerves in her spine being caused by a deformed vertebra. If the operation doesn’t go as hoped, Tilly could end up paralysed.

Their Story

Tilly lives in Surrey with her parents Andi and Michaela, and their daughter Sabrina.

The Problem

Six-year-old Tilly was brought to Fitzpatrick Referrals by Andi and Michaela having been referred by their local vet. Andi and Michaela had noticed that Tilly was having difficulty walking, was yelping when she got out of the car and tried to sit down a lot of the time. One day, when running to the door, Tilly completely collapsed.

Tilly was seen by Dr Clare Rusbridge for a clinical and neurological examination and MRI scan. Clare diagnosed a dramatically deformed vertebrae, called a transitional vertebra, in Tilly’s lower spine causing the nerves that run through and come out of the spinal cord at that point to be squashed, causing excruciating pain and wobbly hind legs. Clare felt that surgical intervention was the best option for Tilly given the anatomical abnormality and the pain that she was in, and so she referred her to her colleague, Professor Noel Fitzpatrick. When Noel examined Tilly he could see how much pain she was in and how the squashed sciatic nerves were causing her to tip toe on her hind legs like she was walking on eggshells, he agreed that an operation called a Lumbosacral Distraction Fusion was going to be the best option for Tilly.


A Lumbosacral Distraction Fusion is a highly invasive surgery, which involves distraction (stretching) of the lumbosacral joint using a titanium bolt and then fusion to keep the structure solid using a specially designed screw system linked with clamps and rods fixed into the vertebral body and sacrum. The entire system has been developed and designed by Noel. The family know that Tilly has few options and so Andi and Michaela decided to go ahead with the operation.

Noel carefully protects Tilly’s swollen nerves by pulling them to one side whilst he uses a scalpel blade to remove the degenerate disc material that lies beneath. Next, Noel inserts the bolt and carefully places screws in the small amount of space available in the vertebral body and sacrum, which are anchored together with custom dumbbell rods. Postoperative imaging showed perfect placement of the bolt and screws, so all there was to do now was wait and see how Tilly would recover.

For Tilly’s family at home in Surrey, it was an anxious wait, especially for fifteen-year-old daughter, Sabrina who describes Tilly as like a sister to her.

I just can’t imagine my life without Tilly


Two days after her surgery, Noel was delighted with her progress and decided she was doing well enough to go home to continue her recovery. It would be a number of long weeks and months before she would be fully recovered, but the family were thrilled to have her back home. Ten months on and Tilly has made amazing progress. She is now able to let her energy escape and run around happily without any pain. It is a wonderful result and we are so pleased to have been able to serve this wonderful family.