Using social media to affect positive change is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. Most of you have probably heard me talk about my dog Jack and his recent health struggles. When Jack was stricken with a rare and hard to diagnose chronic illness late in 2008, I found out everything I could about it through the existing resources - a great Yahoogroup community, a few Youtube videos and the odd blog or Twitter post. We were less than happy with our veterinarian but found the answers we needed through social media.
Once we had learned to manage Jack’s condition, I created an online community for other families and caregivers of dogs with this disease. I wanted to make it even easier for the next person whose dog was diagnosed with Megaesophagus (ME). On the new Ning site, I tried to consolidate all the other great ME resources I could find online. It was my way of giving back to the folks who had helped us find hope in Jack’s diagnosis – the people who said do NOT euthanize him, despite what the vets may say about his condition being hard to manage.
Little did we know, Jack’s health struggles were just beginning. We had a few good, relatively symptom-free months over the winter, but then this spring things got really tough. Jack’s ME symptoms returned with a vengeance in late April, accompanied by even more disturbing neuromuscular signs. We knew there were specialists in our area, but we didn’t know where to turn for a definitive diagnosis.
On May 5, I sent out a desperate cry to the Twittersphere and was rewarded with dozens of responses recommending the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Our search for the best vet care was over. Jack spent the next day having many tests and a neurology consult, and by evening we had our answers. It wasn’t good news, but at least we knew: his ME was caused by an underlying neuromuscular disorder known as Myasthenia Gravis or MG. That, in turn, was caused by a rare form of cancer called thymoma.
Reading a brochure about an illness is one thing, but conversing and chatting with other people going through the same struggle can be literally life-saving. How many dogs’ lives can be saved through their caregivers having the right information – including access to other families who have traveled that rough path before them? The thymoma diagnosis was not an easy one. We thought seriously about euthanasia – but after talking to the surgeon at OSU and several families on the ME Yahoogroup whose dogs had come through the surgery and recovered well, we decided to forge ahead.
On May 13, Jack had radical thymoma removal surgery known as thymectomy or thoracotomy. About as hardcore as it gets, this surgery involved sawing through his sternum and cracking his ribs wide open. Despite the potential for many risks due to Jack’s ME, it all went well. His cancer was encapsulated (had not metastasized) and Jack made it through anesthesia without any problems. Within a day we were able to visit Jack at OSU, and within another day he was well enough to come home – wicked twelve inch incision, 36 surgical staples and all. We spent the next 10 days monitoring him closely, giving him four different medications plus pain pills, and watching his every move. After that we went back to work but I continued to visit Jack at lunch to be sure he was okay. As we neared the two-week mark, Jack seemed to get stronger and healthier every day. We were thrilled!
But then, literally two weeks and a day from his surgery, Jack regurgitated and aspirated saliva or stomach contents during the day while we were at work. When we returned home, he was severely ill and gasping for breath. We rushed him back down to OSU where he received a diagnosis of Aspiration Pneumonia (AP). We could not believe Jack had come so far only to fight for his life once more. The vets told us he may not make it through the night; his blood oxygen level was down to 50% which is considered critical. We went home feeling devastated but holding out hope that our boy Jack would rally once again.
Sure enough, Jack once again amazed the vets, staff and students at OSU when he responded like a champ to nasal oxygen, IV antibiotics and fluids. Within just a few days in OSU’s critical care unit, Jack was ready to come home again. We’ve been nursing him back to health ever since and he continues to blow our minds with his strong spirit, positive attitude and joyful nature despite all the hardships he’s had to face.
Clearly, it’s not just social media that saved my dog’s life – it’s also the surgeons, specialists, veterinarians and students at the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. However, it was social media that led us there, and it was through connections we made via social media that we gained the knowledge and hope we needed to keep fighting along with Jack. I have to say that the kind words and positive thoughts we received through Twitter and Facebook also made this long process more bearable for me, as well.
Jack’s journey’s not over yet. This is one tough dog! He’s also quite the social media hound these days. Here’s a link to Jack’s Facebook fan page, plus here’s a video I made to celebrate his victory over ME, MG, cancer and pneumonia.
If you’re one of the dog lovers who helped Jack and his family through this incredible journey so far, thanks from the bottom of our hearts.
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