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Amazing Grace: World Class Survivor

doctor holding baby goat
Photos by Nathan Latil, NC State Veterinary Medicine

Introducing the amazing Grace, a Nigerian Dwarf Goat who charms everyone she meets, and a world class survivor.  Born some two weeks prematurely and weighing only 1.5 pounds at birth, her owners, Jen and Rob Ruta of Durham, were already giving her special care when fate dealt Grace another blow.  One of the three llamas on the Rutas’ farm inadvertently stepped on Grace’s tiny head and neck when she was only one week old, injuring her severely — an injury requiring hospitalization.  

Large animal intern Sarah Blackwell was on duty when little Grace was admitted to the Equine and Farm Animal Veterinary Center at NC State Veterinary Hospital. “She was comatose and unresponsive,” Dr. Blackwell recalls.  The baby goat was unable to stand or even urinate, running a fever and taking only one or two breaths a minute.  The diagnosis was increased intracranial pressure resulting from bleeding within the brain, and the outlook for recovery was uncertain. Dr. Blackwell began administering mannitol to reduce body fluids and relieve the pressure on Grace’s brain. The team also administered banamine, a pain medication, and to reduce the fever wiped her down with alcohol and placed her on ice packs.

Grace responded well to this treatment, becoming more alert and even attempting to stand.  Her temperature came down and her breathing became more normal. But she was still in severe pain and unable to urinate without assistance, and there was still no way to know if she would live. The journey over the next week for Grace, the Rutas, and the medical team would be a mixed bag of progress and setbacks, hope and concern, as Grace would rally and then suffer setbacks.  In addition to Blackwell, and later intern Leslie Hash Jarrett, board certified specialists Derek Foster, assistant professor of ruminant health, and Chris Mariani, associate professor, neurology, oversaw Grace’s case, monitoring her continuously along with a dedicated team of technicians and support staff.
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[feature_title color=”black”]Little Grace was unable to stand, but by her sixth day, Grace was getting up and moving![/feature_title]



Jen Ruta was the model of a concerned and engaged owner, frequently checking in by phone on Grace’s progress and making nearly daily visits, even bringing in supplies of milk from Grace’s mother, Peaches, who sometimes would cry out in search of her baby.  Jen quickly became an auxiliary member of the hospital team, all united in their efforts restore Grace to health, exchanging information and encouraging one another.

“Everyone here has just been wonderful,” Jen says, “and Grace even has a little fan club.” She promises to  bring Grace for a visit, and says she’ll miss making her regular visits and seeing everyone. “This is our second experience here.  We brought in one of our llamas earlier.  We would never go anywhere else, now.”

On her fourth day in the hospital, Grace had a seizure and began to run a fever again.  She had injuries with bleeding in both her left forebrain and the brain stem, and recovery from this kind of trauma is fraught with difficulty.  But adjustments to her existing course of treatment proved enough to stabilize her and keep her gradual improvement on track. There would be periods of fever and listlessness, but Grace continued to eat well and regain control of her bodily functions.

By her sixth day, Grace was doing much better, looking alert, eating with enthusiasm and although wobbly, showing more interest in getting up and moving.  The Rutas were excited to think that their little goat was really getting better and might be able to come home soon.

In addition to Nigerian Dwarf Goats and llamas, the Rutas keep chickens and grow hay on their 37-acre farm.  Jen refers to the animals as “our children.”  They actually witnessed Grace’s injury, and the memory is still a painful one. Grace will continue to need special care and monitoring at home, but as should be apparent by now, her owners are ready, willing and able to provide it.

two women holding baby goat
Owner Jen Ruta, Grace, and large animal intern Sarah Blackwell

Eight days after Grace was admitted to the hospital, she had improved enough to go home.  Her weight had increased to a little over four pounds, and she was playful, and even a little feisty. On her first excursion outside since she had been admitted to the hospital, she seemed to literally jump for joy. She was still unsteady and experiencing some pain, but she was ready to return to her family.  

Or maybe we should say her original family, because the little goat had captured the hearts of those who had treated her during her time at NC State. Drs. Blackwell, Jarrett and Foster gathered on the Thursday she went home, along with assorted smitten staff members, to say their goodbyes to Grace and her owners.  Ironically, that was the very day that Grace was due to be born, had she not come prematurely.  

In fact, we like to think it really was something of a rebirth for the little goat who wouldn’t give up.