Greta is a 4-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog who has devoted her young life to comforting humans in need. Now, Greta needs assistance from the people around her—and luckily her community is stepping up to help.
On March 21, Greta suffered an FCE stroke (also known as a fibrocartilaginous embolism), which causes paralysis in the limbs. Before her stroke, Greta—a member of Canine Corps at Boulder Community Health— visited ICU patients and staff to lift their spirits. Greta also provided therapy to those in her community who needed it—from patients suffering medical trauma to local students looking for a calming presence during exams.
The stroke hit her pet parent, Lorri Cotton, hard. A neighbor noticed that something was wrong and thought the dog had a broken leg. "She said that she heard a yelp and found her in the yard standing with an oddly hunched back on three of her legs,” says Cotton. “She was holding one of her front paws up and she would not come on command. She soon went down to the ground and could not get up. Her eyes were glassy."
Dr. Daniel Mones, VMD, cVMA of Alpine Hospital for Animals in Boulder, Colo., treated Greta when she was brought in. Though FCE strokes are fairly uncommon, Mones notes that it tends to effect younger dogs and larger breeds. This type of stroke occurs when, "material ends up dislodging from somewhere, and gets stuck in either an artery or a vein in the spinal cord.” This plugs up the vessel and blocks blood flow in the spine, explains Mones. In Greta's case, it impacted all four of her limbs.
In Greta's case an x-ray, ultrasound, MRI and a spinal tap helped doctors determine that aggressive physical therapy was her best option. Following her stroke, Greta started on acupuncture, massages, and hyperbaric and laser treatments.
"Recovery will be a long road, as she has lost the ability to stand and walk," Cotton acknowledges. "She is unable to lift her head on her own at this point."
Cotton not only carries her dog, but helps her eat and drink (for which she uses a large plastic syringe). She is doing everything she can to assure that Greta's mood and mobility are on the right track.
While this type of stroke cannot be prevented from happening, Mones urges all pet parents to be aware of the condition and to take immediate action if they suspect something is wrong.
"It is such a traumatic thing to watch your dog go through," Cotton says, "But with patience, love and proper rehabilitation dogs can bounce back and live normal lives.”
Mones explains that treatment, when done quickly and with the proper diagnosis, will get dogs like Greta back to living a happy and healthy life. "We’re being aggressive with trying to get back her mobility, because the earlier we do that, the better chance of success we have," he says.
When she does recover, Greta has many who will be there to welcome her with open arms. "She has a large group of supporters anxiously awaiting her return," says Pat Dimond of the Boulder Community Health Center. Dimond says that a therapy dog like Greta is a "vital" part of their efforts.
The medical bills for Greta’s rehabilitation are high—over $10,000— but Cotton has received support from friends, family, and her community. Contributors have already raised over $8,000 to help support Greta’s care on her GoFundMe page.
"I love this dog with all of my heart," Cotton says. "I eagerly anticipate the day when she walks, runs, climbs mountains and travels through the front door of Boulder Community Hospital again. I believe in her and I believe it will happen."
Image via Lori Cotton