Darwin's Fight Against Pythiosis
On July 24th 2015 I noticed a large draining ulcer on the underside of his tail. I immediately took him into my regular vet at Aloha Animal Hospital in Indian Harbor Florida. He was diagnosed with a bacterial skin infection and given an I.M. injection of convenia antibiotic. He was scheduled for a follow up in two weeks.
On July 31st 2015, I noticed his ulcer was slowly getting worse and I spent several days searching the internet for possible skin conditions that could produce such a large ulcer. Eventually I found a thorough website that listed around 20 or so different conditions, and I spent several hours investigating each one. When I looked up pythiosis, I read that dogs are infected by swimming in stangant fresh water. For the past 5 months, I used to take Darwin to play fetch and go swimming in a local pond and I immediately began to suspect pythiosis. The more I read about it, the more the symptoms seemed to fit and I could not find anything suggesting it was not pythiosis. I was becomming desperate and tried to prepare several slides and cytology stains but could not find anything.
On August 1 2015, I bought Darwin into VCA Animal Hospital in Palm Bay Florida. I told the vet I suspected pythiosis and I wanted him tested for it but I do not think I was taken seriously. The vet informed me that the secondary bacterial infection would not allow a good biopsy to be done and prescribed me an oral antibiotic, Baytril as well as a Chlorohexamine wash to be used topically. I was told to bring him back in a week for follow up. I decided to take matters into my own hands and found out a Gomori Methanamine Silver stain on cytology could show the disease, but the particular stain requires lots of time to develop. I found out the University of Florida Large Animal Hospital had experience treating pythiosis in horses, and decided to drive the 3 hours to Gainesvillle the next day and bring Darwin in.
On August 3 2015, I brought Darwin into the UF Small Animal Hospital Emergency room. I believe they were more familiar with the symptoms, and immediately ordered test. Darwin was quickly anesthetized, and biopsies as well as tissue samples were taken from his tail lesion and a smaller one on the side. They believed it was pythiosis, but needed to rule out other fungal infection and cancer. The diagnostic test involves growing Pythium on a petri dish and takes 48 hours. Darwin was bandaged up and he and I drove back to Melbourne that night.
On August 5 2015, I received a call from UF indicating the cultures showed a preliminary positive ID on pythium and I needed to bring Darwin back in the next day for surgical evaluation.
On August 6 2015, Darwin, Marianna (his mommy) and I drove up back up to Gainesville and met with a team of surgeons as well as an integrative medicine specialist. Darwin was once again anesthetized and had a CT scan to check for GI pythiosis and help evaluate the different surgical options. After consulting, the surgeons recommended a high tail amputation to remove the infected tissue from his tail and excision of the lesion from his side. Darwin also began his first treatment with a hyperbaric oxygen chamber and was scheduled for surgery the following day. He will remain in Gainesville and receive follow up care as well as more hyperbaric oxygen treatments until Monday when I can go pick him up.
As of August 7th, the total cost of his treatments has come to $5,300 and he will need follow up medication and tests for the next year. I set the campaign at 8,000$ but I will be updating it as needed. I will also be posting invoices and bills below. Any amount you can donate will help him, He is a wonderful dog and the most important thing in my life. He has a great family and lots of friends who care for him and are hoping for the best.
August 11th update: Darwin's surgery went well and we are awaiting the results of biopsies to see how much infected tissue if any remains. While at UF, he underwent hyperbaric oxygen therapy and was very anxious to get home and went on a hunger strike. Since being home he has been happy and started to eat a little bit. He started his initial treatments and has to take over 12 pills a day to start with. Darwin also got to meet with the Florida Today Newspaper to help raise awareness of pythiosis and hopefully prevent any more sick puppies.
In the beginning of October, Darwin started having some respiratory symptoms that sounded like he was trying to throw up or clear his throat. At first it was once a day then over a week it kept getting more frequent. At that point I took him to my local vet so they could have a look, hoping it was just an infection, but I was worried since he was not coughing. They took Xrays and sent then to UF for a consult. Over the next week his breathing got worse, sounding very raspy and wheezy, especially in the mornings when he first woke up. UF agreed to see him and offered to do a CT scan to get a better idea what was going on since the xrays were inconclusive.
I drove Darwin up to Gainesville on October 28th, and they performed a CT scan which showed abnormal tissue surrounding his trachea and bronchial tube. They decided to do an endoscope while he was still under to try and get a visual clue as to what it was. They were able to biopsy some small plaques that were on the inside of his trachea and I took Darwin back home. We were hoping it was not pythiosis, but were expecting the worst, so we changed his medications. He started receiving prednisone to help with the swelling, an increase in his pesticide dose and the antibiotics azithromycin and minocycline.
He quickly got better and his breathing symptoms went away, but the PCR DNA test came back positive. Darwin is the only known dog to have pythiosis in his trachea although there are a few cases of it being found in the lung or in the esophagus. None of those animals survived.
We took another xray on 11/10/15 to see if there was any progress and there seemed to be a slight improvement, although overall there was no major change. Over the next week his breathing symptoms started to come back and we have been very worried.
Since then, we have decided to be more aggressive with his treatments. We found a hyperbaric oxygen therapy location in Melbourne, and Darwin has been going every day this week. UF is also trying to obtain some new medications that might cure his disease although they have never been tested. We are also trying to make a special vaccine for him based on his strain of the disease.
We were really confident he was getting better and we have been really sad about the new infection. He was most likely infected at the same time in July, but the medications were keeping the infection controlled. I decided to do an interview with FOX news Orlando to try and raise some awareness about this disease so no other dog owners have to go through this.
We are planning on doing one more oxygen treatment tomorrow and then some chest Xrays next week to see if there were any major changes. Darwin's breathing is not back to normal yet but it does not seem to be getting worse and is not as bad as it was a month ago. He is very happy and still loves to play and eat and is a very strong fighter. He still has a lot of love to give and lots of love to get and we are going to do everything we can to help him survive.
Please see below for photographs and updates. Invoices covering the cost of treatment so far are at the bottom.
Darwin playing fetch one week before finding the ulcer under his tail.
Darwin and his mommy wait for the CT results on 8/6/15
Picking up Darwin on 8/10/15 after surgery and his first set of hyperbaric oxygen treatments
Post Surgery treatment medications not including immunotherapy vaccine
Darwin in the hyperbaric chamber
Bill from VCA Animal Hospital
Bill from August 3, initial visit to UF
Bill from August 10th
Bills from local Vet:
Darwin's Case Summary
Starting two weeks ago, Darwin's symptoms worsened considerably and he was having trouble breathing and throwing up often. I took him to the UF Emergency room last Sunday and they kept him overnight for observation and although he was stable, they could not figure out if he got worse from inhaling chlorinated pool water or his disease progressing. The past week Marianna and I tried our best to keep him happy and comfortable. We were cooking him ground turkey and rice every night and doing whatever we could to spoil him. We were planning to take him up to UF tomorrow to try and figure out what was causing his worsened symptoms. Two nights ago, I played catch with Darwin for 45 minutes and yesterday I was with him for an hour in the morning before school. I went home before teaching and found Darwin sleeping in my bed which he only does when he doesnt feel well. I hung out with him for a little bit and that was the last time I saw him alive. I asked Marianna to check up on him and take him out when she got off work and after she got there he started throwing up blood and soon collapsed. There was nothing anyone could have done, and by the time I got home he had already died. I was always worried he would die alone, and I am grateful his last moments were spent with his mommy.
The past four months have been extremely difficult and this was not the outcome that we were hoping for. Once the disease was found in his trachea, we knew his chances were low, but we always had hope that he would get better. Although Darwin lived a short life, the impact he made on those who loved him will forever be a testament to what a wonderful dog he was. Without everyone's support Darwin's life would have ended a couple of months ago. Each day with him was a blessing and the memories we made will be with us for the rest of our lives.
I need to convey how very grateful I am towards the University of Florida Veterinary School, their PR director Sarah Carey, and Darwin's vet Dr. J. Shmalberg. He went above and beyond what was expected of him and the knowledge that someone else was working so hard and was so dedicated to saving Darwin's life is really what gave me the strength to go on. I really can't express how grateful I am and how much compassion and dedication I saw from Dr. Shmalberg. Even people would be lucky to have such an amazing doctor. The awareness Darwin has raised is going to help other dogs get diagnosed faster which will help their chances of survival. UF is also going to continue their in vitro testing to try and find a cure for this disease. In this way, we hope Darwin's legacy will help save the lives of other dogs, and hopefully people as well. Everyone who has supported us through this journey is a part of that.
Darwin's total medical bills totaled over 13,000$ but for the time being, I am going to keep the limit set at 8,000$. I want to be clear that any money raised over the cost of his treatment will be donated to UF so they can continue their research into finding a cure for pythiosis.
Happy holidays everyone! I know it's been a while since I posted an update, I was waiting for Darwin's checkup yesterday at University of Florida's Small Animal Hospital.
Darwin's symptoms the past few weeks were getting slightly worse with more frequent wheezing. The symptoms are coming from the infection causing inflammation which is compressing his trachea/bronchial tube. I am also weaning Darwin off his steroid, prednisone, which was suppressing the inflammation so we were expecting to hear more breathing problems.
He does not seem affected though, I have been taking him out twice a day to play fetch and if it were up to him we would be out all day. He needs to take off some of the weight he put on so the more play time the better.
Darwin's vet has been working really hard the past month on setting up a test to check which medicines could work and also making a custom vaccine based on his isolate. Darwin received his first test dose of the vaccine this week and there was a local skin reaction which is a good sign, his next injection will be next week.
The initial sensitivity tests show two possible medications, Darwin started it yesterday. The other possible medication is available if he starts to get worse as a last option due to toxicity. My vet and I are both looking for possible medications, and if UF finds a better choice, we will use it as well. UF was also able to rule out 2 of the drugs he was taking as his isolate is resistant to them.
Darwin also had X rays and blood tests. The X rays do not show any obvious changes from two months ago which is good news although his symptoms have not improved. His blood tests were normal and other than a possible bacterial infection on his foot, he is in good health. Darwin has been through a lot the past 5 months, but he has a chance of surviving this disease. Due to where the infection is located and following similar cases, the next few months are going to be critical. Darwin will turn 2 on March 23 2016, and if he can make it to his birthday, his chances of beating this disease will go up significantly.
Today is my birthday, and Darwin getting the new vaccine is the best present I could ask for. I am taking Darwin down to South Florida for a few days and he will enjoy swimming in the pool and lots of play time. I can't express how grateful I am for everyone's support that helped us get this far. His total vet bills are over 12,000 and without everyone's help Darwin would not be here today. I am also extremely thankful for Darwins vet and UF Animal Hospital. Knowing that there is someone working so hard to save Darwin's life has made this possible and gives us hope.
Out of all the media attention Darwin has been getting, this article is the most meaningful as I was able to write it and make sure everything important was included. Please share it.
On this day we are all supposed to be reminded of what we are thankful for. I am thankful for the joy that Darwin has brought to my life the past 16 months. We are both grateful for the UF Small Animal Hospital and Darwin's vet. As difficult as this has been, I really feel UF cares as much as I do about getting Darwin better, and I couldn't ask for anything more. Even more importantly, I am thankful for all of the support and help everyone has given us, we could not have gotten this far on our own.
Darwin is currently 3/10 on symptoms (10 being the worst) Last week Darwin had 5 oxygen therapy treatments and while we were hoping for his symptoms to go away, they did not get worse. Darwin got his 5/6 immunotherapy serum last week and the vet noticed an epulis in the back of his mouth that will be biospied at some point. Since there was not a big change in symptoms the vet recommended to wait 2 weeks before doing chest Xrays.
Darwin's vet at UF has been amazing, as usual, and we are going to try an inhaled steroid normally used for asthma to try and reduce some of the tracheal inflammation. UF is also looking into creating an immunotherapy serum made from Darwin's culture and they are going to start in vitro testing on Darwin's isolate, They are going to start with an extract from the fungus coriolus. I am compiling a list of possible anti-oomycete drugs for them to try, there are at least 11 different registered pesticides, about half of which are active against the pythium organisms. This will be the first time these will be tested against pythium insidiosum and currently we are hoping this will hold the key to finding the right combination to cure the disease and save Darwin's life.
I'm so sorry to hear this news. Y'all were lucky to have each other
I just lost my Snowball a couple of months ago to old age. I will ask him to wait for Darwin on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge and take him to a nice sunny green field with lots of tennis balls.
Please accept my condolences for your loss. Darwin was loved so much by you and by everyone who donated for his cause. Know you have brought awareness about this disease and we all thank you for that. You were lucky he chose you to be his daddy and you'll meet again over the rainbow bridge.
I am so sorry for your loss. Darwin was lucky to have such great pet parents who did so much for him, as you were lucky to have such a sweet boy...though not for long enough.
I am sorry for your loss. I admire the fight you gave.
My 11 month old shepherd has been diagnosed with it as well. We live in Lakeland, fl. After fighting the mystery infection for four months and on our third vet, we got the crushing diagnosisjust last week. We have also been in touch with UF. It has taken over one leg, a whole side and has now started on the other side. We are beyond treatment now. I treat every day as if it were his last and treasure every moment. My prayers are with Darwin and the family.
I am praying for Darwin and wanted to suggest an amazing vet who could offer other treatment option that you may not have heard about. Dr Craig has been wonderful with all my babies and they love her. She practices regular vet medicine and also specializes in traditional Chinese medicine for animals. She graduated from UF and practices right down the street from your college at Animal Medical Clinic on Babcock across from Palm Bay HS. She isn't a holistic vet but a real TCM vet which are not easy to find. I hope you would consider a consultation with her. She is very compassionate to her furry patients and they respond well to her and the treatments. http://www.animal-medical-clinic.com/dr-marcia-craig/ Also we use formula's from Nature's Herbs of Pets (http://www.naturespetherbs.com/products.htm) and they have worked very well. The boys cataracts are almost completely gone after only 6 weeks. The other 4 formulas we have tried worked just as well. I would suggests Detox Formula, Immune Support and Respiratory Relief but Dr Craig would have to look at them and see how they would work with her treatments. I am continuing to pray for both you and Darwin for healing, strength and life and am expecting complete healing and long life for this sweet boy.