You could have knocked us over with a feather. What in the world happened?
On Monday he was fine. On Tuesday evening he was barely hanging on to life with two teams of veterinary professionals trying to figure it all out. By Wednesday morning, after a night at a specialized emergency hospital and a third team of specialists, he was still fighting, but becoming more stabilized as the day progressed.
Words ending in “oma” can’t be good. Words like lymphoma, carcinoma, melanoma. And, now, hemangiosarcoma. Never heard of that one until November 11, 2015. All the years of sharing life with dogs and we’d never once heard of hemangiosarcoma (HSA or hemangio). Have you?
What We Now Know
At some point between Monday and Tuesday morning, Stuart experienced pericardial effusion: a build-up of fluid within the sac (pericardium) around his heart. It caused him to bloat, his gums appeared grey, his movements slowed. He drank lots of water. He slept restlessly. He could barely put one foot in front of the other.
One look from the vet, and he was whisked off for blood tests and intravenous fluids. It all happened so fast. Our beloved vet of 14 years, who had saved our Scottie, BoBo, from melanoma of the gums years before, was visibly shaken.
“He needs special care, more precise tests and round the clock attention. Go to the specialty hospital. Do it now. We’ll call ahead and give a report. Go now,” we were told. “We can’t find any platelets. Hurry.”
There were no platelets in the drawn blood because they were all being used to save Stuart’s life. He was bleeding to death. From the inside. From the right side of his heart.
Take Him Home
When we received the call that we could visit him in the hospital Wednesday night, we didn’t know all of these details. We didn’t fully understand the severity of his condition. They brought him to us in a waiting room where he tried to sleep. While he lay in and out of sleep we were told that, typically, “when something like this happens, owners make the decision to euthanize; if not, he’s got two weeks at best”.
What? How could this be? We called our vet. Stunned. With her calming grace, she asked how he seemed and reminded us that he’d just spent more than 24 hours in an emergency room. “Take him home.”
For the next month, Stuart lived a perfectly normal life. Taking yunnan baiyao herbs wrapped in cooked salmon to help his blood clot if the effusion happened again. We were told this Chinese herb wouldn’t save his life, but may help give us a bit more time to get him to a place of safety before he passed. He loved the salmon and we loved giving him high protein and vitamins.
We went on walks, he visited his girlfriend, a hound mix, next door. He took long naps. Life was good. Except it wasn’t. By the time there’s an HSA diagnosis, you can bet it’s spread throughout the body and it’s only a matter of time.
Hemangiosarcoma has several forms. Stuart’s case was the worst. Visceral. The right side of the heart. It also affects the liver and spleen. These can be treated with chemo, but even then the life expectancy is only several more months.
We never second-guessed our decision to take him home in November. No chemo. No surgery to make a window in the pericardium to help relieve pressure if an effusion happened again.
He left this earth one Saturday evening in December 2015 just the way he wanted. We went to the Farmer’s Market early that morning. Walked around the lake. Did yard work during the day. (He was such a good snoopervisor off-leash in the yard!) We took our evening walk. He came home and passed silently in his Dad Peep’s arms on the way to the hospital after we noticed something wrong. Nothing specific. Just something wrong. Different.
There was no pain. No decision to be made. And the three of us were together as he took his last sweet breath. The way we’d always prayed it would happen. Except that he was only 9 years old. Not 15 or 16, the way we’d always pictured losing him from old age.
Why Stuart’s Fund?
The grief was life changing for us. Losing Stuart at all – let alone so abruptly after he’d had a complete physical only months earlier – wasn’t only unexpected, but unexplainable. How did this happen? Why was there no test? No sign? No treatment?
After several months, it became clear that we couldn’t let Stuart’s glorious life drift into faded memories as years passed.
His life needs to be a part of the solution. And so can you.
You can help find answers to the “why’s” of hemangiosarcoma.
Please don’t let another Stuart pass without doing what you can to help. Thank you so much.