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Sweet “Staffy” Defies Grim Prognosis

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, along with conventional treatments and diet, has helped Ruth fight tumour – and she is loving life long after doctors warned she would no longer be around!

Ruth is a nine-year-old English Staffordshire Bull Terrier who has had more than a lifetime’s worth of medical challenges.

Her human, James Pedersson, has cared for Ruth through a series of serious, including life-threatening, issues. After all they have been through together, James is crediting hyperbaric oxygen therapy – along with a special diet, chemotherapy and Ruth’s extraordinary spirit – with her recovery (and he’s also hugely thankful that he opted for pet insurance when Ruth was a pup).

Ruth’s first major health crisis was when she experienced laryngeal paralysis, which left her gasping for air and passing out when she exerted herself.

Ruth had unilateral arytenoid lateralization (tie back surgery) for this condition. The procedure went well and the issue is now resolved.

However, as a consequence of that issue and the recovery, another serious problem arose. While she was experiencing the laryngeal paralysis, James kept Ruth from exerting herself because it could result in not getting air to the lungs, her tongue turning blue and her passing out.

“I wasn’t really exercising her, so she put on a little bit of weight and then when I took her back to the park after the tie back surgery, she just bolted as she always does, and ended up tearing her cruciate ligament and I had to deal with that,” he says. “It would get a little better and then she would reinjure it.”

After Ruth’s leg repeatedly healed and then was reinjured, James decided it was best to have TPLO surgery while Ruth was still relatively young. (She was about 7 at the time.) Once again, there was a recovery period of more than a year.

Finally, after all that, James was optimistic that they were home free for a while.

“She’d been through so much, I thought she can just start living her life now and enjoying herself and we’re hopefully through this mess of the last four years of surgery and recovery,” he recalls.

Like a lot of dogs, Ruth had experienced occasional lumps. Often these can be harmless fatty deposits, but they can, of course, be symptoms of something more serious.

“All of a sudden, there’s a little bump that popped up on her back leg,” says James. “I just thought, she’s been through so much, I’ll just wait and see. It seemed to get bigger, then smaller. We eventually got it taken off after a couple of months.”

The doctors removed the lump, did tests and the news was grave.

“They told me it was a high-grade mast cell tumour,” he says. “I talked to an oncologist. They told me she had three months to live, at best.”

The news was like a body blow to James.

“I was obviously super-shocked and not prepared for that,” he recalls.

The doctor went back in to remove fascia around the site of the original lump, as well as a second lymph node, just to be safe and certain that they had caught all the tumour. Then Ruth began a long, continuing regime of chemotherapy.

The veterinarian in Vancouver recommended that James consider hyperbaric oxygen therapy for Ruth. Used for decades in human medical care, veterinary applications of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is fairly new. It is available in a few dozen of the most advanced vet hospitals in the United States. In Canada, HBOT is available only at the RAPS Animal Hospital.

HBOT works by placing the patient in a pressurized environment of pure oxygen. The higher ambient air pressure allows the body to absorb considerably more oxygen than under normal conditions. The pressurized environment allows for much greater absorption of oxygen, increasing oxygenation of all organs, tissues and body fluids.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can aid reduction in swelling, stimulation of new blood vessel formation into the healing/swollen tissue, a reduction in pressure caused by head or spinal cord injuries, improved wound healing, and improved infection control. It can also help patients by speeding up the healing process and may reduce or eliminate the need for more invasive procedures such as surgery, oftentimes resulting in a net savings of time and cost of treatment for pet owners.

It is often suggested in cases of severe skin and tissue damage, including burns and skin grafts, fracture healing, infections, inflammatory conditions like pancreatitis, nerve damage, paralysis and a long list of other conditions.

James, who is a tattoo artist, speaks like a seasoned scientist because he has had to become familiar with a ridiculous range of medical terms and he’s done research to seek out the best treatments for his beloved companion animal.

“The mast cells basically grow in a hypoxic environment, which is an oxygen-starved tissue,” he says. “HBOT made sense, hyper-oxygenation to create an environment which hopefully will counteract the hypoxic situation in her body.”

Ruth took to the procedures easily. She was going in twice a week for “dives” – the term used in the HBOT field, because it is similar to deep-sea diving in terms of pressurization. For the patient, it is sort of like being placed in a big kennel. Sometimes they take a nap. In Ruth’s case, she tends to just look around and chill out.

Not only does James think the hyperbaric therapy is helping prevent a recurrence, but she seems reenergized after every treatment. She comes bounding out of the therapy facility full of vigour.

“I think she gets almost supercharged after the HBOT. She just feels great,” he says. “She smiles at me and she’s all happy.

“She bolts out – I have to catch her like a football when we open the HBOT because she just flies out,” he laughs.

Things were fine again – for a while. James reduced the hyperbaric treatments to once a week after the chemotherapy finished.

“About a month after her chemo treatments finished, I was playing with her on the ground and I noticed that one of her lymph nodes was about the size of a grape,” James recalls. “I obviously rushed her to the hospital and had them take a look at it. The mast cell had come back. It had moved from the leg up to the next lymph node.”

She underwent another surgery and now three lymph nodes have been removed. She went back to chemo and James increased the frequency of HBOT dives.

“It’s been quite a roller coaster with her,” he says. There is no sign of tumour now – and Ruth is doing well, finally, free from her succession of major health crises.

“She’s got tons of energy,” he says. “When I take her to the park, she bolts around. She’s very happy and energetic. We call her ‘Sunshine’ because she’s just beaming all the time. I think her success is part due to her positive energy and her lust for life.”

In addition to being a big advocate for hyperbaric oxygen therapy, James is also, understandably, a big fan of pet health insurance, which he got for Ruth when she was about six months old.

“I’m so fortunate and grateful that I got pet insurance when I did,” he says. The insurance has covered 90% of all Ruth’s treatments. James is out of pocket 10%, plus taxes, which, given Ruth’s medical history, is a major financial headache he didn’t have to deal with.

“I’m so fortunate that I’ve never had to make a choice about Ruth based on money,” he says. Meanwhile, Ruth continues on preventative oral chemotherapy and there’s no sign of metastasis anywhere, he says.

“I try to remain optimistic,” says James, who was told a year ago that he had about three months left with his best friend. “I’ve been through so many ups and downs with her. As long as I’m doing everything that I can, I just try to enjoy whatever time we have.

“It’s important to remember that every dog is different and no prognosis is certain,” he adds. “I’m convinced that the HBOT, along with chemotherapy, diet and a lot of love are the reasons she is still here today.”