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Upgrade Equipment or Save My Dog?

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  • Upgrade Equipment or Save My Dog?

    Well, it really is a no-brainer, but yesterday our dog underwent surgery to fuse several vertebrae in an effort to make this third "event" his last.

    Very, very long story short, prior to last week, he has twice been left without the ability to move his extremities after his spine was pinched causing swelling that cuts off the signals from the brain to his legs/feet.
    He's 7 now and the first time it happened he was not quite 2 years old.

    Both events resulted in MRIs to determine the cause and took many weeks of physical therapy and steroids to reduce the swelling to the point where he could stand and eventually walk again.
    The last time surgery was discussed as an option, but it's not without risk, nor is it inexpensive, so we decided to treat him conservatively as we had done the first time and while difficult, we were able to get him back to "normal" at home.

    The first two times it happened as a result of him twisting his neck while playing with a ball - last week (Wednesday) it came out of the blue. I was sitting on the floor and he came over wanting to lick my face (his favorite thing in the world), but I didn't want my face licked and told him so. He simply turned and walked over to his bed where he yelped loudly/dropped and didn't move. We knew immediately that it had to be the same thing happening again - he wasn't moving.
    Off to the ER.

    After having yet another MRI, the neurologist spoke with us, and we all agreed that this was not going to get any better on it's own and had the potential to get even worse without treatment. Surgery was scheduled for the next day.

    This really is a long and complicated story but that's the condensed version.
    It couldn't have come at a worse time financially. The truck just needed $700 work to pass inspection a few weeks back, my wife was hospitalized for 4 days (although she has insurance), and my battery died one day while out working costing another $140. On top of that, the mowing season has all but dried up.

    I had planned on upgrading to a 36" walk behind mower for next season, but vet bills are going to kill me. $860 from the emergency room/overnight/testing. $1,500 for the MRI and I believe the surgery is going to be around $2,500. (minimum)

    Financially, there is one glimmer of hope, in that we have pet insurance.
    They covered part of the bill from the first event, but due to some doctor's notes stating that his issue may have been congenital, they flat out denied payment for the second event. Gee, thanks.
    The surgeon said that when he opened him up and could SEE what was going on, he believes it is not a "birth defect", but possibly an old injury from when he was a pup. (We adopted him at 10 mo. old)
    Praying that the doctor can write something up to help us get this at least partially paid for by the insurance.

    Here's our boy Pepe (Le Pew) in the ICU today...

    The surgery took 4 hours and was not an easy one. He lost a LOT of blood and the situation with his neck is so unique that there isn't anything quite like it documented anywhere. Thankfully, the surgeon is the only board certified neurologist/neurosurgeon in western Pennsylvania, but even with his knowledge, much of what he did for Pepe had to be improvised.

    We are very fortunate to live close enough to this facility. It opened a few years ago and is an emergency room and veterinary specialist hospital. All the specialists form the area got together to form a group and build this state of the art facility - it's truly amazing and rivals just about any human hospital I've seen.

    Anyway, that's the condensed version. You never know what may come along and change your plans for your business. (or your life, for that matter)

    Any prayers for Pepe's recovery are appreciated.
    And don't ever tell your dog you don't want kisses. I felt like hell after that and thought I'd never get a kiss from my buddy again.

  • #2
    I certainly hope Pepe recovers fully .


    • #3
      Man I am crying now thanks dick, YOU had better saver your dog, Save your dog.


      • #4
        Man I just want to give him a big hug .
        he looks so scared in the pictures.
        Please keep us posted.


        • #5
          Thanks, guys. It's been a rough couple of days and he probably won't be home until Monday at the earliest.

          The place seems so empty without him here.

          I was looking for a pic of him in better times when I ran across the "snow fort" album. LOL! (Yes, I build my dog snow forts)

          This was Feb 2010...


          • #6
            Aww..... Good looking dog you have Hedge, me, the wife and Scout, my dog send our best.


            • #7
              Not much change from yesterday. Still just lying on his side, although they did see some movement in his back legs today.

              He gave us kisses when we got down near his face.
              Going to talk to the neurologist tomorrow to see what the plan is from here.

              Thanks to all for kind words and prayers.


              • #8
                I hope Pepe is feeling better soon!
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                • #9
                  Day 3 - Post OP:

                  We went to visit Pepe today and spent a good hour and a half with him. The staff is wonderful - we kept asking if we were interrupting them, and offered to move/leave if needed, but they were fine with us being there. One of the ladies even said it was nice to see us there, as some of the dogs don't get visitors.

                  He looked a lot better today, and while he's still not moving much, he's off of the IV and taking pain meds orally. He still has the catheter and will likely stay that way when we bring him home until he gets to where we can help him outside to do business.

                  Barring anything odd, we should be able to bring him home tomorrow afternoon/evening.

                  It was extremely busy there tonight, but while Pep's surgeon was rounding, he stopped in to speak with us for about 10 minutes. I didn't know whether to be delighted, or offended when Pepe began wagging his tail when Dr. MacKillop came into the room - he didn't wag his tail for US! LOL! (But he gave us kisses!)
                  It was pretty awesome. He really likes Pep. He said he even gave him a treat before he went home the one night after his surgery. "He just looked so pitiful, I had to give him a treat!"

                  The doctor got down and moved Pep into another position while we talked about the plan for his discharge. We were pleased to see that he didn't protest being moved. Before we take him home we are going to have them go over what they've been doing with him in regards to physical therapy.

                  Hopefully I can figure out a way to post the x-ray of the screws/bands that were put in his spine. He may have less range of motion side to side now, but "up/down" should be OK.

                  Oh, I almost forgot - this was pretty funny...
                  We were lying with Pep before Dr. MacKillop came in, and one of the techs brought two Pugs into the room to "say goodbye" to another tech working there (they were being discharged). They were both on leashes and very excited, and when Pep heard their little feet clicking on the hard floor, he started to wag his tail and let out a "Wuuup-wuuuup!" - even tried raising his head a little more than we have seen him do before. He knew that there were "puppies!" in the room.

                  I took some more pics today that I'll have to post. A little more encouraging than the previous photos, I must say.

                  Thanks again to all for your continued support.


                  • #10
                    Pics from this evening's visit...

                    He started getting sleepy and closed his eyes for a nap.

                    Can't a dog get a cat-nap around here? Who do I speak to about getting a private room?

                    After Dr. MacKillop moved him. He was a lot more alert and in this position he could keep an eye on the activity in the room...

                    I love you, mom...

                    You too dad, but what's up with the camera? You're not going to show that photo to anyone ARE you?

                    Sigh. This is going to be on the internet - I just know it...


                    • #11
                      looks and sounds like he is doing a little better .I bet if you gave him a cookie ,you would get the same reaction the doc got , you probably havent been slipping him cookies since he has been in the hospital ,and Pepe is smart enough to know who gave him his last cookie .


                      • #12
                        Pepe was discharged today.
                        Still has a long way to go, as he can't really move much yet.
                        He has been moving his legs a little though, so that's encouraging.

                        Moved the loveseat out of the living room to set up a nice, big area for him to hang out.
                        We need to turn him every few hours and do physical therapy using an exercise ball to keep his leg muscles moving.

                        Goal is to get some use of legs - enough to stand with assistance. Once that happens and he can go out to do his business, we can celebrate.

                        Total bill including ER, MRI, and surgery - $5,715
                        It would have been $7,015, but the surgeon waived some of the fees for us.


                        • #13
                          WOW! I never knew how much pet surgery could be!

                          Did they say anything about how to help prevent this from happening again?
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                          • #14
                            WOW! I never knew how much pet surgery could be!

                            Did they say anything about how to help prevent this from happening again?
                            Yeah, tell me about it. Part of what we are paying for though is the best facility and medical staff in western Pennsylvania.
                            A bunch of veterinary specialists got together and opened this facility just a few years ago. It's not a "vet clinic" where you take your pet for routine care. You either go there for emergencies, or are referred there by your regular vet because your pet's issue is beyond their scope, and requires a specialist.

                            If I didn't link it before, here's their website. Note all the specialty services along the top.

                            We do have pet insurance, but the last time he injured himself this way, they denied our claim (it doesn't work quite the same way as human medical insurance) due to something that was noted in one of the doctor's charts.
                            We are praying that with the help of the doctor making some specific notes to address the previous reason for denial, we can get a percentage of our bill paid for, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

                            As for preventing future injuries to his spine? That's what the reason we went ahead with the surgery. It's complicated, but his spine had too much mobility allowing for the "pinching" of the spinal cord, causing swelling which cuts off the signals from the brain that allow control of the limbs. There's also some abnormality in there, but I'm unclear if it is totally caused by the body's defenses trying to "protect" that area - there was a lot of scar tissue in there that would suggest that.

                            The amount of "disability" depends on the severity of the damage at the time. The first time it happened, he was really bad (all four legs were affected), but we managed to get him recovered at home with a LOT of effort and physical therapy.
                            A few years later it happened again when he caught his nose on the ground while chasing a ball. He twisted his neck, dropped to the ground, and couldn't move. This time he had limited use of his back legs, and the recovery time was not as long. At that time, we had discussed the option of surgery, but since it was not without risk, very expensive, and he had recovered without surgery once before, we went that route.

                            Fast forward a few more years and it happened again with no vigorous activity to point to as a cause - it just "happened". Any time you have a repeated injury, your chances of getting back to where you were initially are reduced. Factor in that with the fact that it could happen again at any time and we were left with three options:
                            1. Take him home as we had done in the past and cross our fingers.
                            2. Allow the neurologist to surgically correct the problem area as best as he can and fuse it to eliminate the instability in hopes that we can prevent this from occurring again.
                            3. Euthanasia

                            #1 didn't seem like the best option and while #2 was something we are going to struggle with financially, we were not about to consider #3 without trying surgery first. Only when all options are exhausted will we consider that decision that nobody should have to make.

                            It's not easy to care for a dog that is this debilitated, but it's what we signed up for when we adopted him. In addition to simply being a wonderful dog all around, he's gotten us through some really crappy times emotionally. He deserves as much of a chance as we can give him.

                            He's going to walk again. I have faith.


                            • #15
                              It is fantastic that these services are available and so close!

                              Is there any chance they would take a swap of lawn care services for their facility in lieu of payment?
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