A little over a month ago, June 8, Tommy suffered a “saddle thrombus”, a condition where a blood clot caused by underlying heart disease lodges where the aorta splits to enter each hind leg, cutting off the blood flow to the hind legs and pelvis. His rescuer and attendant humans, Melanie and her husband Jeff, were lucky to be home when this happened and managed to get Tommy to the emergency clinic within an hour, but the condition is excruciatingly painful and damage is most often irreversible, euthanasia is usually recommended. Tommy actually survived this with days of critical care and surprisingly in days he began to move his hind legs and even regain some use. After treatments he was in kidney failure, necessitating regular fluid therapy, but still in congestive heart failure, where fluids are retained in the chest cavity. Melanie and her husband had decided to take him home knowing he is at risk for another clot, and fully expecting him to deteriorate. (You can read more about Tommy, Melanie and Jeff in the original post.)
His chances of long-term survival are questionable in part because cats who suffer and recover a clot are highly prone to another, often within months. Tommy is also compromised by FIV, and chances of infections are greater. But he suffered so much in his early life and recovered that—in all the scans and xrays for his current condition, they also found buckshot and broken ribs—Melanie doesn’t want to cut his time short if he’s willing to give it a try, which he obviously is.
But Tommy has only continued to improve each day. After the first few days at home when he would not eat nor have his fluids, they packed him up and sent him back for tube feedings and IV fluids for a few days, then took him home again. It seemed to be just the bridge he needed to really begin recovery rather than just surviving and even began walking to the best of his ability just a week after arriving home.
“Overall, Tommy is improving daily,” Melanie said on June 29. “He’s a happy guy for the most part. Tonight was the most we’ve seen him walk, but we kind of forced it on him to challenge him a bit.” Already his levels of BUN and creatinine, two main measures of kidney function, were just a tiny bit above normal and his potassium was in the mid-normal range. He was still getting fluids daily and he’d started really fighting the fluids, but he was in the step down phase and was only getting 50 ml once daily. Most encouraging were the everyday things, though. “He’s able to get in/out of the litter box well and rarely needs cleaned up afterwards. He’s eating really well and drinking plenty of water. We’re hoping that follow up appointment with the cardiologist on Thursday (July 2) will bring more good news about his kidney values. They’ll do blood work and I believe he may have an EKG done as well.”
Because he’d had a tube in his nose for feeding and it was lightly stitched in place, he regularly had minor nose bleeds. “Nothing bad, but we can’t keep that nose clean,” she said. “The vet warned us this could happen due to the blood thinners, but I need to find out if this should still be happening.
“I think he’s really frustrated about his legs though. It’s really important that we get something built for him soon,” she said, and the idea was born. Because he was having such trouble getting around and they were concerned about him dragging his legs, Melanie and Jeff decided they would build him a cart like one they’d seen using the specifications from a video of carts built for cats with cerebellar hypoplasia found on Youtube. The cart would help Tommy position his feet properly instead of dragging them to help give them more strength and to reduce muscle atrophy. They visited a hardware store and a hobby store to get an idea of what we needed and got started.
By July 4 Tommy was improving even more and his cart was in the works. “Jeff is doing a great job on getting that built. We need to figure out the harness part and we need a couple of extra parts and hopefully we can help Tommy walk a bit better,” Melanie said. They’d also found a vet who offered physical therapy in water and would see if Tommy would be one of the ones who took to it.
But once the cart was done the result was a little disappointing, but humorous. “So far the cart plan is not going well. It’s built and ready for Tommy, but Tommy is not quite ready for it. This is going to take some time,” Melanie reported. “On the bright side, it seems Tommy does have impressive strength in those back legs when he’s trying to get away from the cart. Starting to wonder if just chasing him with the cart will provide the PT he needs.”
Two days later, Tommy was seriously trying to walk, and succeeding, even without the cart. “I think the fear of the walker set a fire under his ass to start using his legs more. He clearly has more strength and better use of one leg over the other. We only have carpet in our bedroom and that seems to be where he refuses to walk the most.” He seemed to spend his time laying around, walking a short time then he’d “plop over dramatically and let out these big sighs.” They’d kept him safe in the bedroom but taken him downstairs with the other cats a few times, but he always went to the bottom of the steps to be taken back upstairs, and it seemed he was almost intimidated by the other cats and didn’t want to be around them anymore.
They decided to challenge him, took him downstairs and made him walk. He did much better than they’d expected and was fine with all the other cats, likely gaining some of his old confidence back. Since then he’s actually tried to jump the baby gate as if he’d forgotten about his partial handicap. His exam on July 9 showed his BUN and potassium were in the normal range and creatinine just a few points high, he’s doing well and doesn’t need to go back for another four to six weeks. It’s truly an amazing recovery. You can watch him in this video.
“While the cardiologist still expresses concern that Tommy’s prognosis is guarded, she’s so excited to see how he keeps improving,” Melanie said. “She said that a lot of cats could probably have a better survival rate if the owners were able to afford the care and put forth the effort in the care required afterwards. Most owners choose to euthanize due to the cost and potential issues with quality of life afterwards. I am so glad we stuck with it. I know he will always have a guarded prognosis, but the improvements he makes all the time show us how strong his will to survive is.”
Veterinarians often advise euthanasia in cases like these because of the level of care that’s needed, and the lack of that care, sometimes even with it, would be inhumane for the cat. Melanie and Jeff have a lot of skill in taking care of risky medical and behavioral cases with cats and dogs, so they could offer that level of care, but it’s taken its physical, emotional and financial toll on them. “Every day when we come home from work we rush to check on him to make sure he’s okay. We know the risk is high with him. This has been really hard. His care had taken up a lot of extra time we don’t have. But we’re doing our best to manage it all. It’s hard not knowing what the future will bring, but we cherish every day we have with him. Hearing Tommy purring in bed with us at night all cuddled up makes it all worth it. He has an awesome purr.”
But even with their level of skill, they know this isn’t for every cat, and not even for all of their cats should they find themselves in this position. “Honestly, we have several cats here that we would not have been able to do this for. They would not have handled the stress well and it would have been more humane for them. I guess some of it is in how much you think your cat can handle as well. Tommy’s a tough cat. We knew that. He’s always been a fighter,” Melanie said.
“I want him to be an inspiration to others, especially those that have concerns about FIV+ cats. It amazes us that his immune system has managed to carry him through all of this,” Melanie said. “To me, Tommy is an inspiration and I want him to be an inspiration to others as well.”
She and her husband have a household of lots of cats and several dogs, all rescues, often the ones no one else would adopt. I met Melanie in 2011 as she was caring for a woman who had been a long-time rescuer but was succumbing to brain cancer, and all the woman’s pets. Melanie took care of Dorothy in her remaining months, and cared for and rehomed her remaining cats and dogs, who had been the hardest to find homes for, after Dorothy went to hospice. You can read about this in Dorothy’s Pets: A Final Wish, and follow up in Dorothy’s Pets.
She has also practiced TNR in her area and is currently helping to TNR and reduce the colony numbers as well as help provide food to a colony of 50+ cats (they keep appearing) in a trailer park near her. She has taken several friendly cats from this colony and fostered them, and found most of them new homes, and she volunteers to teach the public about TNR at the Beaver County Humane Society.
If anyone could pull this off, for whatever time Tommy has left, it’s Melanie and her husband. Their credit cards are full and even if Tommy doesn’t live very much longer there will still be bills to pay. The YouCaring fund called “Tommy’s fight for recovery from saddle thrombus”. is still available for another week if you’d like to help, or continue to help, Tommy, Melanie and Jeff—and thanks so much to those of you who have already donated! You’ve been a very important part of making Tommy’s recovery possible.
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