Sasha was admitted around 10 am and they started off with weight and preliminary blood work. When Dr. Pothoff ‘s appointments were finished they planned on doing the spinal MRI to pinpoint the area of disk compression followed by surgery. I was still concerned about the sudden blindness and asked to have an MRI of her head to rule out structural or organic issues i.e. tumor. I also wanted some CSF (cerebral spinal fluid) drawn to eliminate an infectious process. I knew Dr. Potthoff could look at her MRI’s and CSF in their in-house lab and get a fairly accurate idea if there was anything grossly abnormal before sending them out for definitive analysis. I told him I’d done a hasty search on sudden canine blindness and read about “SARDS”. Some of the symptoms preceding onset *can* be ravenous appetite which Sasha had for about a month along with diminised sense of smell and/or hearing. He knew exactly what I was talking about and said it was called Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration (SARDS) for which there is no cure. He was really shocked by her blindness and seemed genuinely saddened.
I stayed with Sasha in the exam room while we waited for them to take her for MRI’s and surgery. She would be under general anesthesia and I knew we’d be there the rest of the day. I was extremely upset while we waited because it seemed that there were numerous medical issues going on simultaneously and I was afraid.
The only positives out of our wait time was that Sasha had never been the type of dog who reacted to my emotions so she didn’t feed into my angst plus my daughter was with us. I was really concerned about the cost because I had an estimate for the surgical procedure but that did not include the additional MRI, spinal tap and other blood work to eliminate a tick born infection that might cause sudden blindness. I had most of the money but knew that the MRI alone would be almost another thousand dollars. The require a 50% deposit before they even take your pet out of the exam room. I spoke to Dr. Potthoff and explained that once Sasha was taken to the treatment area, my daughter would leave and return with a check for the full higher-end of the original estimate plus some additional for the add-on testing. He was fine with that as she only needed to go to a bank close by. I’m Catholic and wear a brown cloth scapular at all times. Just before they came to get Sasha I took it off and attached it to her collar where is still remains.
My daughter and I spent the rest of the day in the waiting room because I wanted to be there should anyone need me. Dr. Potthoff’s tech came out a few hours later and said he wanted to speak with me and led me to room off the normal exam/treatment areas. I knew by the amount of time that elapsed that Sasha could not have had surgery. When I entered the room the first thing I noticed was the perplexed, quizzical look on Dr. Potthoff’s face. He told me the MRI showed absolutely no disc compression of her spine. Of course he didn’t have the official reading from radiology but I think he is very good at interpreting what he sees. He also said the MRI of her head showed no abnormalities and the CSF appeared clear (a good things). The rest of the lab work for tick borne diseases were send outs. I still didn’t have an answer for her sudden blindness and in a way, hoped that one of the multiple lab tests showed a funky infection that could be treated, thereby giving her sight back. One of the things Dr. Potthoff and I discussed was the timeline of her recent decline and although she began having more rear leg weakness in late winter, it was only in the past month that she was the worst; back legs intertwining thus causing her to fall and bowel incontinence. As we went back and forth he kept wondering what was different. I told him the only thing at all that had changed in Sasha’s medication routine was when during her visit of March 8 he asked that her prednisone (taken every other day for her perianal fistula disease) be weaned back. I titrated her down as he’d instructed and she was now only receiving it twice a week. Dr. Pothoff suggested that I start giving it to her twice daily for 3 days than daily until he saw her again the next week. He commented on the severity of arthritis in her left knee although he did say there was some in her right knee. Even under anesthesia when usually the body is so relaxed that ones limbs can be moved like a marionette, he had a difficult time extending her left leg because of the knee. Her arthritis seems to be confined to that one area which has caused the knee to thicken significantly. Incidentally, I learned that a dogs knee is called a “stifle“.
When we came in March I noticed a sign in the office indicating they perform stem cell therapy (SCT); it caught my attention and because I like to research, had done quite a bit during the past few weeks. I honestly had no idea until I saw the poster that it was available for pets. As Dr.Potthoff and I talked about ways to improve Sasha’s quality of life I pointed to an SCT sign in the room and said “What about that?” He looked at me a bit surprised and said it was definitely an option. I remembered that when she went in March just being in the car for so long ( a 6 hr round trip) really wore her out and the next day she was stiff and reluctant to get up. Keep in mind that prior to Sasha’s FCE in 2011 she was active in Schutzhund training/competition and had almost attained top-level. Even after recovering from the FCE she maintained an active lifestyle. I inherently knew at that moment that SCT was a treatment modality I wanted to seriously consider and would explore with him further at her appointment the following week.
I was NOT prepared for what I saw when they finally brought Sasha out! In fact I was so shaken that the few phone pictures I took were extremely blurred so I waited until we arrived home. As a nurse I’m used to CSF being taken from the lower back (lumbar region). I’m sure you’ve all heard about the dreaded “spinal tap“. I had no idea that it’s usually drawn from the top of a dog’s head. Sasha looked like she had a reverse mohawk!
Upon leaving my plan going forward was that if she didn’t have an infection causing the changes in mobility and loss of vision then I’d take her to the veterinary ophthalmologist who would probably confirm the tentative SARDS (Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration) diagnosis. She had been ravenously hungry the past few months and in fact, gained 10.5# between her March 8 visit and Monday April 11. Sasha has always been on the lean side as she is high energy all year long, hiking, swimming, snowshoe buddy etc. So losing some weight was paramount because we all know that carrying extra pounds on bad joints isn’t wise. Also having a definitive confirmation of the cause of her sudden blindness was very important to me. On the bright side, anticipating neurosurgery I had paid in full the higher estimate plus extras so when we left I had a credit balance of $3281.85 so if I did indeed pursue STC I had the funds.
🐾💜Next up ~ more trips to Southern Maine💜🐾
I’m not a savvy blogger yet so unsure of menus, icons etc. To see Sasha’s You Tube channel which chronicles her journey from onset until present day, please click here.