MARIANNA, Pa. – A calf born with its heart in its neck is thriving on a western Pennsylvania farm despite the unusual deformity.
Tom Leech, the Amwell Township farmer who owns the 6-week-old calf, researched the disorder on the Internet and found just two instances, one in Kentucky in 1903 and another in Turkey, though it's not clear when that one was born.
"No one has ever seen it, never heard of it," Leech told the (Washington) Observer-Reporter (http://bit.ly/1FQwTU0 ).
Not without a sense of humor, Leech has named the calf "Cardio Brisket" because its heart lies in its throat, just above the tender breast cut. But he's serious about keeping it healthy and, if nothing else, learning more about the defect for the benefit of other farmers.
The farmer noticed the defect when he brought the newborn Shorthorn bull in from the cold in March. Leech was warming the animal with a blow dryer and electric blanket only to feel the heart pulsing in the animal's neck.
A West Virginia veterinarian said he's never seen anything like it. Dr. Todd Moores, of Wheeling Veterinary Associates, believes the calf was born with a defect that kept the calf's sternum — or breast bone — from developing properly. The opening enables the heart to "flop" out into the neck.
"I could tell by looking at it. You can see the heart beating right there," Moores said. "It even makes a noise because there's fluid around it, so it makes a sloshing noise."
Leech and his wife, Debbie, plan to keep the calf as long as possible, but won't display the animal at fairs like a "circus attraction."
The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine offered to test the animal, but couldn't guarantee it would survive, so the Leeches declined.
They keep the calf in a barn away from more than 20 other cattle, for fear it will be injured mingling with the others.
"They're like kids," Leech said. "They start playing, they start butting, and I'm afraid they'll butt his chest and could possibly injure his heart."
The calf is able to swallow grain normally, and Leech has refused the advice of those who told him to euthanize the calf.
"If he was suffering, we would probably do something, but he's not," Leech said.
Information from: Observer-Reporter, http://www.observer-reporter.com