by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ’04 Ph.D.
When Kristy Fiorini first held the small, brown-eyed corgi puppy with a white patch on his right ear, she was smitten. A long-time dog lover, she had been wanting a corgi ever since she could remember. “My husband isn’t so much of a dog person,” she says. “But he gave me the puppy as a surprise because he knew how much I wanted him.”
Like all puppies, Murray, was full of energy. He loved playing with toys and chasing Kristy daughter’s dog. But when he was six months old, Kristy noticed that Murray’s head was tilting to the side. “At first, we thought he had hurt himself playing chase,” she says.
They took him to their local veterinarian who treated him with anti-inflammatories, but Murray didn’t improve. Kristy took Murray back to the veterinarian, who recommend an MRI to see if there was a problem with a disc in Murray’s spine and she was referred to the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “Making the appointment gave me hope,” she says.
After a neurological exam, WSU neurology intern, Dr. Sandy Chen, told Kristy it wasn’t disc problem. Murry had some blindness in one eye and did not appear to feel touch sensations on half of his face. He was also dizzy, which would not have been related to a disc problem in the spine. Something else was going on in his brain to cause his symptoms and the MRI would help them know more.
“It was so emotional,” says Fiorini. “I went in expecting disc surgery and when she told me there was something going on in his brain, it was even worse news.”
At 7:00 a.m. the next morning, Kristy dropped Murray off at the veterinary hospital. “They told me that I may not hear from anyone all day,” says Fiorini. She was surprised when she got a call at 1:00 p.m. “Dr. Chen asked if I could get to the hospital right away,” she says. “I thought the worst.”
They found two abscesses in Murray’s brain and an abnormal pocket of fluid at the base of his brain. “Dr. Chen met me in the parking lot and told me they needed my permission to do a spinal tap,” says Fiorini. “They needed my consent because there was a chance he may not make it.”
Murray spent the night and was scheduled for surgery the next day. Kristy came back in the morning to see him before surgery. Then she waited.
“I sat facing the door where I knew they would come from after the surgery,” she says. “My biggest fear was that they would come out and tell me he didn’t make it.”
WSU neurologist Dr. Hillary Greatting performed surgery on Murray’s brain to remove the infection from the abscesses, which was causing the blindness and lack of feeling in his face. Neither she nor Dr. Chen had ever seen infection that extensive in a dog’s brain.
But the day after surgery, Murray walked out to greet Kristy.
“He has responded well to treatment of the abscesses,” says Greatting, which also included a strong antibiotic. “His second MRI was improved, but not normal yet. It is a miracle case, but he is not going to be out of the woods for a while.”
During the first weeks of recovery at home, fourth year veterinary student, Hanna Robertson, kept in touch with Kristy daily. Kristy would send updates and videos, so they could monitor how Murray was doing. “It is amazing for a dog to get that kind of care,” she says.
Today, Murray, who is just a little over a year old, is feeling better, but because of the fluid pocket at the base of his brain, which he’s likely had since birth, his head still sometimes tilts and loses his balance. “It has been touch-and-go,” says Fiorini. “A lot of improvement, but a lot of uncertainty. But I know we are on the right track.”
After the expenses of the surgery and the medicine Murray needs every month, Fiorini says they were financially tapped. So, they applied for funding through the WSU Good Samaritan Program. They received $900, just a fraction of the costs, but it made all the difference. “Knowing we were able to go back for the follow up and have it financially taken care of helped me sleep,” says Fiorini. “It was literally life-saving.”
Before they can consider a second surgery to remove the fluid, the infection from the abscesses must be completely gone. And the surgery is risky. Kristy is trying to weigh the risk of the surgery, with Murray’s quality of life because she knows he could come through it better, or worse. “His endurance is not there, but he is leading a good life,” she says. “I love this dog so much. I’ll take him as he is.”
And so far, his progress has been even better than expected. “That he is moving in a positive direction is amazing,” says Dr. Greatting. “We are very optimistic that he is doing this well this far out.”
For now, Kristy and Murray are waiting to see how he does before he returns for a follow up visit at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “That place. It is much more that a veterinary visit,” she says. “They are an amazing group of people from start to finish.”
UPDATE November 16, 2018
“After we brought him home last January, Jim and I decided that whatever the outcome, we couldn’t put his little body through another surgery,” says Kristy Fiorini. “We just hoped and prayed that he would continue to get better.”
Murray seemed to be doing well. The infection cleared up and a follow up MRI in February 2018 showed no change in the pocket of fluid, or cyst, at the base of his brain.
“But as time went on, his head tilt came back, and it was obvious that the cyst was the culprit,” she says.
Murray had been on prednisone, a steroid, for months to slow the growth of the cyst and the medication had taken a toll on his body. He got weaker and sicker. When they returned in September for an MRI, the news confirmed their worst fear: Murray’s cyst had grown.
The cyst was compressing the cerebellum in the back of Murray’s skull, which caused the head tilt. But it was also pressing on more than half of the brainstem that controls walking, breathing, and heart rate. “My fear was that if we didn’t remove this cyst soon, Murray’s quality of life would worsen and that he could lose his ability to walk or even breath,” says WSU veterinary neurologist Dr. Annie Chen-Allen.
On the drive back to Seattle, Jim turned to Kristy and said, “Well we can’t just do nothing. He needs surgery.” And on October 18, 2018, Murray returned to have the cyst removed.
Immediately after surgery, Murray couldn’t walk or see very well. And he had a difficult time eating. Kristy and Jim had to leave him at the hospital and go home for the week. “I kissed his nose and told him to fight hard because we are coming to bring him home so soon,” she says. “The very next morning I got a call saying that when they went to get him he hopped out of his bed and walked down the hall and waited at the door to go outside. And the change in him from after surgery to the following Saturday when we picked him up a week later was nothing short of a miracle.”
And since he’s been home, Murray has been improving every day. “His eyes are so bright and so curious and so happy now. They gave him a chance to finally be the puppy he’s never gotten to be.”
“He’s walking better every day and his head tilt is gone,” says Dr. Chen-Allen. “What is even better is that we are able to take him off prednisone, which was causing him so many unwanted side effects. Murray has been through so much for such a young dog and all I wish for him now is to live a long healthy life from this point forward.”
Kristy says she finds it hard to express just how deep their gratitude and admiration is for the hospital, and for Murray’s doctors and team. “You don’t find many neurology surgeons who will devote their weekends to their patient’s successful recovery and you definitely don’t find many who will stop on the way to work in the morning to buy that patient a rotisserie chicken every day because that’s the only thing he would eat,” says Fiorini. “That is the level of care you receive here.”