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Rare heart defect makes Montana calf a curiosity

Posted at 8:30 AM, Apr 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-05 15:38:59-04

TOWNSEND – Ranchers near Townsend witnessed a rare miracle this week.

A calf was born with her heart beating inside her neck. Alive four days later, she’s beating the odds.

“It’s a once in a lifetime calf,” said Kimberly Zimmerman, a veterinarian and owner of Elkhorn Veterinary Clinic in Townsend. “I’ve been practicing for 10 years and this is the first one I’ve seen.”

Juliet Flynn Christensen posted a video of the calf on Facebook. As of Thursday night, it had 6,000 shares.

Close up of the calf born with her heart in her neck. Townsend, MT March 31, 2019. Story from the news— 4/4 “Cora” has now been picked up by a team from Montana State University. We are confident she is in excellent care and that they have her best interests in mind in dealing with her condition. It was sad to say goodbye and feel her amazing beating heart one last time- what a miracle! Watch KTVH tonight for her story! (Will post it as well)Update 4/2 Calf is still doing well. At this point, she doesn’t appear to be as active as a “normal” calf should be at this age. Contact has been made with Montana State University to see if they would be interested in taking her. The Vet Science program may be if they can figure out a way to make it work. Should we give her a name? Update 4/1/2019–She is doing really well for those who have inquired. Her and her mom are currently still out with the rest of the cow herd doing happy cow things until we decide the best course of action. She spends a lot of time safely tucked away sleeping. ………Since this video has spread like wildfire please know we appreciate your concern for the little gal and will post updates but please don't be offended if I don't accept your friend request or answer your messages. For licensing and usage, please contact:

Posted by Juliet Rose Flynn Christensen on Sunday, March 31, 2019

The calf’s condition is called ectopia cordis, which means the heart formed outside the chest cavity.

It’s not caused by anything genetic. It’s simply a “glitch in nature,” according to Alan Goldhahn, an WIMU adjunct professor at Montana State University.

It’s rare for calves born with the birth defect to survive.

“A lot of times, with those kinds of defects, their valves and other parts of the heart aren’t formed right, so they don’t get enough oxygen to other necessary components of their body,” said Zimmerman. “So they usually don’t last very long after birth. The fact she’s still alive is pretty amazing.”

Now, veterinary students at Montana State University will get to learn from her case.

“In vet school, you read about it. You think that’d be cool to see, but you usually don’t ever get the chance,” said Zimmerman. 

Thursday morning, MSU vet faculty picked her up. Cora is headed to Bozeman where she’ll live out her natural life while students study her.

“It will be a true opportunity to see and appreciate something they haven’t, and probably won’t get to see in their lifetime,” Goldhahn told MTN. “It’s very rare.”

Goldhahn said the vet students have been studying anatomy. Now, they’ll get to see Cora the miracle calf in person.

The Flynn family at Hidden Hollow Ranch said they’ve seen a lot through the years, but they’ve never seen anything like Cora. They also never expected the attention the video has gotten.

According to Zimmerman, a calf born with this condition could live to about four months.

-By Evelyn Schultz – MTN News