BHF was recently contacted by a remarkable young woman coming to terms with the diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure in her beloved chocolate lab, Duncan. BHF is humbled to be able to share Liz & Duncan’s story and provide support during this unexpected turn in their life together.
Liz & Duncan
“Duncan entered my life in March of 2009, and it was love at first sight. After months of attempting to adopt a dog, The American Lab Rescue paired Duncan and I together, and for the past four years we’ve been inseparable. Duncan is truly my sidekick. Living in a very dog-friendly NYC neighborhood, he runs most of my errands with me, and when the weather is nice he joins me at the outdoor bars and restaurants. True to his breed, he has an incredibly friendly disposition, and everyone who meets him quickly falls for his friendly personality and excitable nature. He will run for miles, fetch for hours, and is in a perpetual state of happiness. I’ve always said that Duncan just loves life too much – it is the only way to explain his excitement over anything and everything. This all made Duncan’s diagnosis in March 2014 all the more shocking: Congestive Heart Failure. I couldn’t fathom how my happy puppy with endless energy could be given just 9-12 months to live.
Duncan has always been a healthy dog so his diagnosis came out of nowhere. After two weeks of an unrelenting cough, the vet had diagnosed Duncan with an upper respiratory infection. Four days later I came home late at night to find him unable to breathe, and I rushed him to the emergency room. A chest x-ray showed that his lungs were full of fluid and his heart was enlarged. The next day a cardiologist diagnosed that what we thought was severe pneumonia was actually congestive heart failure due to mitral dysplasia, a heart valve that never fully formed at birth. The dysplastic valve was allowing fluid to flow back into his heart chamber, causing the heart itself to enlarge. It turns out that all the years of intense exercise actually put an immense strain on his heart and has accelerated his condition. In total, Duncan spent 3 days in the ICU on oxygen to improve his lung capacity and was heavily medicated to reduce the swelling in his heart. The doctors informed me that his condition could be managed with a cocktail of pills (nine a day!), but that his activity level would need to be severely limited to reduce any unnecessary exertion on his heart.
The day of Duncan’s diagnosis I decided two things: First, Duncan needs to keep being Duncan and doing the things he loves. He needs to continue to run, fetch and explore even if it means it will shorten his time left with me. Second, Duncan is just too amazing of a dog for everyone not to benefit from his energy and spirit. I needed to turn our misfortune into someone else’s fortune, which is where the Big Hearts Fund comes in!
BHF has been generous enough to allow Duncan and me to share our story, and we hope to provide periodic updates as we adapt to our new normal. We’ve been learning something new everyday: how far we can walk without getting too tired, how long Duncan can hold it as his bladder adjusts to being on a diuretic, what foods are allowed on a low-sodium diet, and when are the best times to count his breathing rate, which has to be monitored and recorded twice a day. We’ve had our setbacks too: Duncan developed a blood clot in his leg, which put him back in the hospital a few days after his initial discharge. It rendered his leg useless for about a week, and it was ice cold to the touch, but I am happy to report that he seems to have worked through the clot. I’m hopeful he will regain full mobility and we will get back to our walks soon!
I feel very fortunate for the medical staff we found that will be managing Duncan’s care and the support we have from our friends and family during this trying time. Organizations like the Big Hearts Fund are crucial for those pets and pet owners who find themselves managing their conditions under different circumstances. One BHF pet, Diamond, has been diagnosed with the same condition as Duncan, but her owner is unable to fund the necessary care Diamond needs. My hope is for Duncan and me to generate awareness that will help others, Diamond in particular, to get proper medical care and funding for their medical needs. If you have had the joy of meeting Duncan or his story has touched you, please visit the Help! page and consider making a donation to sponsor Diamond or any of the BHF pets in honor of all our lovable pets whose hearts are literally too big for them to handle!"