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By Stephanie Neighbour
August 1, 2009. It was the middle
of a horrible heatwave in New Jersey and I had planned a nice day
of swimming in the pool with Chip and Autumn. They had both just had
their yearly check ups two days prior and passed with flying colors.
I was worried because 6 months earlier Autumn had an incident that
had been diagnosed as an injured leg and was placed on 2 weeks crate
rest. I always suspected it was her back but was assured it was her
leg. At the end of the 2 weeks she was back to her old self running,
jumping, playing and happy.
This day as I opened her crate door she came out ever so slowly, I
immediately knew something was wrong. For the 6 years I had Autumn
every morning started the same way, I open the crate and she darted
out running full speed all over my room followed by a full sprint
down the hall to the sliding glass doors barking to go out. Not today.
She crept out, sat down and shook. I tried to pick her up and she
screamed out in pain. I had no idea what was wrong. After sitting
awhile she took a few wobbly steps and stopped again. Eventually I
was able to pick her up. I took her out she hardly went pee and she
tried but could not hunch over to do her poop. She ate her breakfast
then sat stoically staring into space and shaking. I called our vet
who suggested that it could be the heat and I should keep her inside,
of course this was a Saturday so if things worsened he instructed
me to take her to the ER.
I sat with her all day trying to figure out why my girl who had done
a 2 mile walk the night before with tons of energy and enthusiasm
could hardly move today. Her tummy was distended and tight, this is
not my Autumn. She is very lean and athletic. I googled all her symptoms
and Bloat kept coming up. I was in a state of panic and decided it
was time for the ER. I took her outside to do her business before
we were to leave and then it happened. As I put her in the grass she
took a few steps and went down. I knew we had a serious problem. When
I scooped her up she cried out then lost control of her bowels, poop
was falling out all over both of us. I was crying, holding my baby
girl and running to the car. At this point I knew my worst fear had
come true, that leg injury of 6 months ago was indeed her back. All
I kept thinking was why did I not follow my instinct and have a more
thorough back exam done? For years I had suspected back issues in
Autumn, how could I have let this happen.
I called ahead to the ER to let them know we were coming and as we
arrived I saw the trauma team waiting outside. We took Autumn into
the exam room and the Neurologist and Emergency doctors both examined
her. I was told she had suspected ruptures of T-12 and T-13 but still
had deep pain sensation and that her best option was surgery. The
option of crate rest was never mentioned. Autumn was given a 90-95%
chance of a full recovery. She had a Myelogram followed by emergency
Neurosurgery. The doctor called right after surgery saying how well
things went as he had removed a significant amount of disc material.
Although Autumn could not move her legs or urinate on her own he assured
me she would come around. She would be home in 2 or 3 days. I visited
her daily bringing her food, treats and lots of kisses. The first
day she was so drugged she did not even know who I was but as the
days went on she came around. On the day I was to bring her home the
Head of Neurosurgery called and told me that Autumn had suffered a
set back. She no longer had any deep pain sensation and they feared
she was showing signs of Myelomalacia, ascending and descending paralysis.
He told me if that was the case it was fatal and I had to be ready
to make decisions. My heart was broken I remember sitting in my room
crying until my whole body hurt. I could not bare the thought of losing
my little girl after only 6 years.
An MRI was done followed by a second surgery to remove more disc material.
Although Autumn never regained DPS she rallied and by the end of the
week she came home. I must have given her 1000 kisses in the first
5 minutes I had her back in my arms. I was given instructions on how
to express her bladder and a sheet of paper entitled "Living
With a Paralyzed Pet." We were sent on our way. After 8 weeks
of crate rest and still unable to stand, her surgeon told me to let
it go and order her a cart. They could not help me in finding a cart,
they did not offer rehab (actually they told me not to waste my money
on it!) and they gave a grim prognosis for her future quality of life.
As we left the hospital I whispered in her ear,"Mommy is going
to find you a new doctor."
At home I spent hours on end in front of my computer to find us any
kind of help. Luckily, I found Paula's video on how to express poop
which ended our problems with bowel incontinence, which had plagued
us for 8 long weeks! When I asked her doctors about it I was told,
poop is and always will be random. How wrong they were!! Once I got
her expressing on a schedule things started to go back to normal,
just a new normal. Since she was also taken off of crate rest she
was enjoying scooting around the house and I saw a great improvement
in her mood. Life was getting better and Autumn seemed happy and alert.
Finally, I located a Rehabilitation Center near by who worked with
many IVDD cases and we started treatments with a new doctor. One of
the first things her new doctor did was to fit her for an Eddie's
Wheels cart. This allowed her more mobility and the ability to get
back to participating in the activities she loves. The first day we
went to rehab it took 2 people to stand Autumn up to perform her exercises,
she was like a limp rag. We went the rehab center two times a week
and also did the prescribed daily routines at home. As the months
went by Autumn got stronger and stronger working up to walking on
the water treadmill for 20 minutes at a time. At home she worked up
to her usual 30 minute walk in her cart and she has even gotten strong
enough to walk reflexively with no assistance in the house on ANY
I was amazed at her progress. This was the same dog who could not
stand up to eat her food 3 months after surgery and now she was walking.
Her rehab team has never given up on Autumn they are truly the reason
she is so strong today. We are at 9 months post op and Autumn is a
happy, active and healthy girl. IVDD is not a death sentence and Autumn
is living proof of that. Her quality of life is excellent and not
a day goes by when she does not do something to make me laugh and
when I watch her I know she is laughing too. I still express her bladder
and bowels everyday and probably will for the rest of her life, she
will probably never make that 100% recovery she was promised but I
believe she is 100% recovered in her heart, which is what matters
most. I share her story with you in the spirit of giving hope to someone
who is faced with this same diagnosis. Our message to you is to never
give up on your IVDD dog because as long as you love and support them
they will never give up on you!!!