Memphis Cat Gets New Lease on Life

Dr. Ai Takeuchi pets Opie, a cat that recently underwent a successful kidney transplant.

If you've never owned a pet, stop reading right now because you probably won't understand why a Memphis woman recently took her 12-year-old cat to Pennsylvania for a kidney transplant. But if you are an animal lover, chances are you can identify with Catherine Addy-Bernstein and her husband, Howard, paying about $16,000 to keep their beloved feline alive.

Opie, a male Siamese with opalescent blue eyes, was nearing the end stages of kidney failure when the couple brought him to Memphis Veterinary Specialists in Cordova. There they met Dr. Ai Takeuchi, who told them the only way to save Opie would be to find a kidney donor. He only had about two months left to live. Finding a donor, however, isn't all that common and only a handful of places in the U.S. offer such a thing. Luckily, Takeuchi is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, where Opie had his operation in mid-September and came through it like a champ.

The playful, suprisingly well-behaved cat had been diagnosed with a congenital kidney condition when he was about 3. For nine years, Addy-Bernstein kept him on daily medicine and a special diet. By the time he ended up being referred to Takeuchi and her group, however, he was so anemic and thin it was time for dialysis — something else that's hard to come by for pets, local and otherwise. He'd lost his appetite and couldn't stop vomiting. His trips to the litter box were increasing too. But putting Opie down was unthinkable. "He's an important part of our lives," Addy-Berstein says. "He's been with us a for a long, long time."

Takeuchi's friends at the University of Pennslvania found a donor cat in a Philadelphia shelter. The cat, a sleek black shorthair named Cadbury, is only about 2 and would have been euthanized had he not been a viable candidate for loaning Opie a kidney. The only catch was that the Bernsteins would have to adopt Cadbury after the operation. Not a problem, they said. Now the two cats are "good buddies," and it shows. They behaved beautifully during a media event today.

Three months out from his operation, Opie is gaining weight and the fur, albeit slowly, is growing back around his mid-section. "He looks like a different cat," says Takeuchi. "I don't think he's felt this good since he was a little guy."

Opie's life expectancy is now normal, his vet says. He has to take immunosuppressive drugs for the rest of his life, but meds are nothing new to this kitty. All things considered, Opie landed on his feet, as cats are wont to do. And now he's even having a brush with celebrity. Opie and his family are being featured on Animal Planet's Must Love Cats early next year. The show follows him throughout his surgical adventure, so stay tuned.

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