Sarah, Meredith, Katand I are hosting the #reverb16 December challenge with daily writing prompts for the whole month! You can join in anytime by finding our Facebook group. Use the #reverb16 hashtag when posting on social media so we can find you!
Unexpected. During the year, we all have had unexpected surprises that have thrown a wrench into our plans. What was one of yours and how did you get through it?
What was ONE of mine? For The Love
If there were only one I could pick... the whole of 2016 has been a big unexpected surprise.
I'm not a negative person, however. So any unpleasant surprise I have quickly found a way to turn around into a great big "BUT..." The only surprise I didn't have a positive spin for was the death of Prince. RIP to one of the greatest artists of all time. Oh yeah, and the election... don't get me started.
The biggest unexpected surprise came in July of this year, when we took Levi in for a routine physical exam prior to having his teeth cleaned - dogs have to go under anesthesia to have their teeth cleaned, and Levi has traditionally had some issues related to anesthesia and we wanted to be safe. His last checkup was in April, he went in for an ear infection and at that time, he was in perfect health (except for the ear infection, of course). So it came as quite a shock when the vet announced that he heard a heart murmur level 4/5 for the first time in Levi's life.
A lot of small dogs develop a gradual heart murmur that starts low and builds as the dog gets older. We would not have been surprised if, at 9 years of age, that Levi had a minor heart murmur at a beginner level. But to go from zero murmur in April to a level 4/5 in July is alarming.
*skip this part if you're only interested in the story, not the science*
Heart murmurs in dogs can occur for many reasons, but the most typical of which is mitral valve regurgitation. The mitral valve is a flap in the heart that allows blood to pump into the ventricle, but not backwards towards the lungs. As a valve should work, it allows one-way movement. Mitral valve disease causes the thickening of the valve to the point at which it does not close properly and blood moves back and forth ineffectively in the heart. In response, the heart enlarges to allow for a larger capacity of blood pooling and to keep blood pressure in the body stable. Eventually, the excess blood will back up into the lungs causing congestive heart failure.
We went to the cardiologist at the earliest possible moment. He confirmed that Levi did indeed have a level 5 murmur caused by mitral valve disease exacerbated by a chordae tendonae rupture. There are chords in the heart (literally what country singers croon about when they sing about heartstrings) that help coordinate the movement of the mitral valve flaps. If they break, the effectiveness of the valve is compromised significantly. That explains why it was not a gradual increase in murmur grade, but all at once.
We were devastated by the news. And we were further shocked when we were told he had 6-9 months before he experienced congestive heart failure, and possibly a year left to live. We left with this news heavy in our hearts. And our devastation turned to anger and frustration. Why is there nothing that anyone can do to correct this issue in dogs? Humans have open heart surgery to repair the heart valves all the time - it's practically routine!
We emailed veterinarians at UC Davis, Cornell University, and several other highly respected veterinary schools in the US, along with one point of contact we found for veterinary surgeons in France. We heard back from the French doctors - they asked for more information about Levi and his results from our cardiologist. We sent them. We found more information about the doctors in France, and other dogs and owners from the US who had gone there to have the repair done. We called. We coordinated. We kept researching. No veterinary team in the US performs this procedure. Only one surgeon - a Japanese surgeon - who performs these operations in Japan, Singapore, and France does this procedure.
When we finally got word from the french clinic that Levi was a candidate, we were still in a little bit of disbelief that this was possible, that this was actually something that we could and possibly WOULD do. Were we crazy? Would other people think we were crazy? Can we logistically pull this off?
Long story short... maybe we're crazy, maybe we just love our dog. We didn't give a single flip what anyone thought of what we were doing. And yes, we logistically pulled it off... one day at a time, one piece at a time, one foot in front of the other. When you want do something that seems impossible in foresight (and hindsight), you have to know that the little steps in between to make it happen just come as long as you keep moving. We never lost faith, even when it was tested over and over again. I was taught that my heart and my hope are infinitely bigger than I ever realized.
It was unexpected. All of it. The diagnosis. The plan of action. Even the result (Levi is resting comfortably at home recovering *praise*). But most of all, it was unexpected what two people with love and hope in their hearts can accomplish together.