Strong Hearts for Niijii

12/12/18: Almost a year ago, Niijii was given a 6-12 month prognosis due to severe tricuspid valve dysplasia, a usually deadly congenital heart defect. Through surgery, we've beaten the odds, reversed the heart failure, and have been able to fly past that initial prognosis. However, the last six months we have been struggling with Chylothorax, which is a way of saying that Niijii has been struggling with chronic chest fluid build up that makes it hard to breathe. Through many chest taps, we hoped that an angioplasty in April would be the solution, but Niijii and I are heading back to Denver on Sunday to get a more aggressive surgery (pericardiectomy and duct ligation) that has an 80% chance of resolving the fluid.

This is our last chance, and our last shot at making sure he can have an amazing quality of life. I am forever indebted to everyone's support over this last year. It has been a struggle for us, but Niijii has been able to experience the Seattle mountains and has been the best editor for all of my papers for my PhD program this quarter. I don't know what I would have done without him. However, because of starting a PhD program and getting sick with kidney issues in November, my income is severely limited, with every spare resource already going towards caring for him. Any share, penny, or positive thought is so appreciated right now, and will be going directly towards the cost of surgery and travel to get to Colorado State University Veterinary Hospital. 

Niijii and I thank everyone who has been so supportive in my life and community. I truly would have not been able to pull this off without you all.  You're all invited to Niijii's second birthday party. 


Chi miigwetch. 

1/7/2018:  Hi! My name is Niijii. My human mom, Em, said that it means “Friend” in the language of the Ojibwe people. I like to think that name is a pretty good fit for me, because I love everyone that I meet, especially if they give me belly rubs. I LOVE those. Mom says I need to stay away from people for awhile, though, because it might get me too excited. I guess she’s worried about my heart.

Mom took me to the vet in December, and the nice lady in the white coat said my heart sounded a little funny, even though I’m only 8 months old. So the next week, mom dropped me off to meet with a different lady in a white coat. They stuck these funny sticky things on my belly so they could see my heart better. It tickled. But Mom wasn't happy when the lady called her back with what they saw though—she actually cried. The doctor said I have something called “Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia”, which is a fancy way to say that the valve on my right side isn’t doing a good job of pumping blood into my heart. If we do nothing, they said I might have 6 to 12 months to live. Eventually, I will go into heart failure. They put me on some different medications, but those just make things a little easier and don’t offer a cure.

Mom started emailing a whole bunch of people about me. There is a nice white coat guy who offers a surgery through Colorado State University that would fix my heart. He says that I have a 90% chance of making it through the surgery without any serious complications, and an 80% chance of having my life expectancy restored. Mom says that those months could turn into years. I don’t really have a concept of time, but I think that means more belly rubs, which I am totally down for. The surgery would also allow me to return to having a normal life, where I could play with other dogs and try to steal belly rubs from other humans. The nice white coat guy said that the surgery would cost around $15,000. I don’t know much about money, besides that it is good for tearing up and mom gets angry when I do that. Mom told me that that is a lot of money, but that she already has $6,000 saved up for me. She has already spent over $1,000 on me in the last month for all these tests and medications. She said that even though it’s a lot of money, it’s worth it if that means she gets to have me around for longer. She hates asking for help, but she also knows that lots of people care about me.

We’re going to be road tripping to Colorado for the surgery on March 6th. Mom is nervous, but I’m just excited to get back to chasing and wrestling with my friends. She said that I should thank you for reading this, and even sharing my story helps. I can’t wait to give you hugs and kisses when my heart is better!

With love,

Niijii and Em

P.S. A note from Em: Hi everyone. A sincere thank you to all of those who took the time to read Niijii’s story. This little guy is so important to me. At the encouraging of many friends and family members, I put up this page in hopes of offsetting some of the surgery costs for Niijii. I do realize that this is a large chunk of change, but every surgery done for Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia helps develop better surgerical techniques and interventions that can help lower costs and improve outcomes for other dogs in the future. I want to see Niijii get white in the face from age. So far, Dr. Orton at Colorado State University is the only surgeon in North America doing this type of work. I read through hours of veterinary medical literature and emailed 15 different professionals about his situation. Dr. Orton was one of the folks who responded, and he feels that Niijii is a good candidate for the surgery to save his life.

Niijii was originally adopted in the hopes of being trained as a therapy dog. It is my hope that with a successful surgery, he can get back to that dream and share his story of survival, community, and perseverance to others struggling through difficult situations. 

Chi miigwetch (a big thank you) again, and let’s hope for the best for our little Friend.


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Em Letzel 
Seattle, WA
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