Greta’s story is a miracle of the coalescence of science, love of family and friends, and the very special care that is the hallmark of the Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. She is alive and healthy and one more testament to how non-humans can bring out the best in us.
The first six months of Greta’s life are her secret and a mystery to me. We came together one morning in March 2010 as I was on my way to work near the north end of the Salton Sea in California. Out of a flurry of dust and swerving automobiles on a narrow desert road came a stately young shepherd who had no doubt of her way home. I stopped and called her to me. She came, but would continue her journey, so I talked her into the back of the car and away we went. None of the local shelters had reports of a missing dog of her description and after two days in her company I could not imagine being without her. Shepherds are heartbreakingly loyal, and though we became friends, it took a long time for her to fully adopt me.
Our life in Palm Springs was idyllic. We hiked the desert canyons where she gave jackrabbits their exercise, and came home to rest in the pool or in her recliner. After several years there together, we converted to a travelers’ lifestyle and have since traveled the west in a 5th wheel trailer, wintering in Arizona and spending the warm months in Woodland, WA with family. I am a landscape painter, and the minute I pull my easel from pack, she knows our hike is over for a bit. She is very patient, but seems to know when I should stop lest I overwork, and then we resume our march. We have met many friends along the way, Greta being the social director, of course; friends who would one day help to save her life and ours together.
After six years of friendship and travel, Greta began showing signs of pain at the base of her skull. She was thought to have a herniated disc in her neck and I began giving her rimadyl as a temporary remedy. When we reached Washington this spring, her veterinarian in Woodland, Dr. Courneen, pressed me to get a CT scan. Dr. Krull, neurologist at Columbia River Veterinary Hospital, conducted the scan, and found the source of pain to be a large, slow-growing mass inside the upper vertebra, C-1, restricting her spinal cord by nearly 75 percent. I was advised that Greta had but a few weeks or little more before paralysis would set in. After discussing available options, Dr. Krull suggested consultation with staff at Washington State University Veterinary Teaching School. He sent a report on Greta to his colleague there, Dr. Chen-Allen, for an opinion on surgery.
Dr. Chen-Allen called me and confidently recommended surgery for what she believed was a spinal meningioma. She told me meningiomas are typically benign tumors of the spinal cord but is still locally invasive and will grow over time to cause progressive neurologic deficits. She also recommended applying for a grant from the WSU Good Samaritans Fund. Several friends and family members immediately donated toward her treatment. After receiving an estimate on costs of surgery and follow-up radiation, we set a tentative date for treatment. Without expectation, but knowing I had to work for Greta, I published a GoFundMe campaign to Facebook on July 1. Within minutes, a friend in Hawaii who knew her contributed, followed by several other friends and trailside acquaintances. After substantial donations from family and friends, and success with the Good Samaritans Fund, we set the date with Dr. Chen-Allen, and I brought Greta to the hospital on July 11.
After a MR image confirmed size and location of the tumor, Greta was admitted July 14 (how fitting it should be Bastille Day) for surgery. I waited in the lobby a long time talking with other worried clients and suddenly was greeted by the smiling faces of her surgeons, Dr. Chen-Allen and Dr. Dixon. Surgery was a success with 90% of the tumor removed! The tumor was a confirmed meningioma which allowed much of the cost to be assumed within an on-going research study on meningioma tumors. The day following surgery, Greta surprised everyone by walking, and after several days in ICU we were reunited. She had been in a big fight for her life and came through it by a combination of spirit and the dogged professionalism of her surgical team.
On August 1, Greta began her radiation treatment under the direction of oncologist, Dr. Fidel. Her technicians were always happy to see Greta and made the ordeal as pleasant as possible. She also received four treatments of acupuncture by Dr. Bunch assisted by student doctors and jars of frozen baby food. August 24 was her final treatment of radiation and she will now be awaiting a final MRI the end of November to determine the success of the surgery and radiation and a prognosis for the future.
Our experience at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital has been exceptional in every way, with comfort and compassion shown by everyone from staff in reception and billing, to the student doctors, to the faculty of professional physicians. I waited for Greta during each of her treatments and saw many cases of people with troubled pets and every one I witnessed was treated as if it were the only one. This hospital is truly a life and spirit saving institution.