August 05, 2012

Saigon Sundays: One Year Anniversary

This weekend marks Saigon’s one year anniversary since suffering from a fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE). Basically, FCE is a stroke-like event occurring in the spinal cord instead of the brain, where a small fragment of intervertebral disc material suddenly blocks an artery or vein of the spinal cord, resulting in paralysis of one or more limbs. In Saigon’s case, his rear left leg was paralyzed. 

The first line of defence, when treating FCE, is a 48-hour corticosteroid drip, in efforts to reduce inflammation and encourage the blocked material to pass. While the Vets first reaction was to suggest euthanasia should the drip not work, a bit of research on Jim's part told us that if anything, Saigon could be happy as a 3-legged dog.

Those 48-hours were the longest 48-hours of our lives so far, and unfortunately, Saigon made no improvement during them. When we went to pick him up, I prayed that the Vet was wrong and Saigon would greet us on all fours. Sadly, he didn't, but when he saw us, he was a big bundle of wiggles, and he wiggled himself out of the cage and covered us with kisses. We took him home and took it one day at a time, but in the backs of our heads, we were pretty sure we would have to amputate his leg. The first few days were the toughest; Saigon was completely dependent upon us. He couldn't move from one position to another, he couldn't walk and he had no control over his bladder or bowels. We would set him up on his bed and drag him from one room to the other so he could be with us at all times. Once he regained some strength and was able to push himself up into a sitting position, he put a lot of strain on his elbows and we had to keep bandages on them to keep them clean and stop the bleeding. Ironically, even though I was working as a home care nurse at the time and well-trained in wound care, it was Jim that changed Saigon's bandages. I was pretty much a wreck once I got home and I shed a lot of tears in those first few weeks. I'm not sure if I would have managed without Jim as my rock.

On his bed that I would slide around the main floor so he could always keep me in sight

We would set Saigon up on the couch so he could cat-watch, one of his favourite past-times.

All bandaged up!

By the two week mark, once the anaesthesia had long worn off and Saigon was getting stronger, there was still no improvement in his leg. We now had a special harness, the "help 'em up dog harness", that we had ordered online, and it allowed us to lift up his hind legs so he could walk with only his front (like a wheelbarrow). He could now stand unassisted and with some motivation (food!), he could hop forward a few steps. Then one afternoon shortly after this two week mark, Jim and I were hanging out with Saigon in the backyard before getting ready to head out to a BBQ. I'm not sure how it started, but I remember Saigon picking up one of his stuffies in his mouth, dropping it, and barking at us as if to say "throw it for me!"  So we did, but just a few feet away. Saigon hopped after it and brought it back to us. We did this a few more times and each time, Saigon would hop after it, bring the toy back to us and bark for us to do it again! Jim and I grinned at each other and cheered Saigon on. We were like parents watching our first born take his or her first steps. 

All decked out in his new harness (and booty for extra grip) for the first time! He grows to love it.

That was Saigon's huge turning point. From then on, he was more more mobile, and much more willing to try and be mobile. Luckily, the kennel we had boarded Saigon at in the past also ran a hydrotherapy pool there. Fun Free Canine Centre is the most awesome place ever and we dearly miss it now that we are back in Alberta. Karl and Jenny who own and run the place are the best. I had spoken to Karl shortly after the accident and he recommended that we wait for some movement to come back to the leg before trying water therapy. When I called Karl to tell him the good news, we started Saigon on hydrotherapy about three times a week. It was a 45-minute drive each way, but it was worth it. Saigon's left rear leg muscles had atrophied so quickly, but it didn't take long to build them back up.

In the hydro-therapy pool! Saigon loves swimming so this type of therapy just made sense.

It was also around this time that Jim had just accepted a new job in Edmonton and we had to put our house on the market. Knowing that a move was in our very near future, I took Saigon as often as possible for sessions in the hydro-pool to get him as strong as we could before the move. About six weeks after Saigon's accident, I packed up the house and made the 12-hour drive to Edmonton with him and my mom (Jim had already moved). At this point we knew we wouldn't have to amputate Saigon's leg and could only hope that he would continue to improve.

On the 12-hour drive from Chilliwack to Edmonton.

It's hard to believe that it's been a whole year since that time. I'm happy to report that Saigon has gained back approximately 80% usage of his leg. If you didn't know anything had happened to him, you wouldn't even notice that anything was wrong. Of course, we're his parents so we notice little things, but for the most part, we're just happy that he got to keep his leg and can once again enjoy walks! It really is amazing how resilient dogs are. At one point we got a second opinion and I'll never forget that Vet telling me to stop feeling sorry for Saigon because Saigon doesn't feel sorry for himself. He wasn't depressed and he was surrounded by his people. He was happy. That Vet saved my sanity. 

Nowadays, Saigon's a little slower and tires much easier, but he's here, he's whole, and his personality is just as loud as ever.  Jim and I love him with all our hearts and couldn't imagine our lives without him.

Today: Saigon once again enjoys walks and playing fetch!


  1. I'm so glad Saigon is doing well. Clearly a lot of work on both his and your parts to help him recover but yay he did and is doing well. He's super adorable.

    1. Thanks, Alley! We're so glad it all worked out, too :) But now, I tell him he must live forever! :D

  2. Obviously this story is making me cry! What a strong guy :)

    1. Aww, I swear my intentions were not to make people cry! :)