Help Stiorra get live-saving surgery

Stiorra was born on January 12, 2023 at a local farm unable to walk.

Originally suspected to have been squished in the womb, or stepped on by her ewe mom, we agreed to take her on. When we arrived to pick her up on Friday January 13th, they discovered that she had an open lesion on her sacro-lumbar spine, Spina Bifida which is a neuro-tubal defect. We were unfamiliar with the condition, and the farm had suggested that we didn't need to take her on if it was too much.

We looked at this sweet girl, doing her best to hold up her body using her two front legs, while her back legs swayed left, then right, the left again, before she flopped onto the ground. Determined, she stood back up, this time a little more sturdy. She moved towards us, dragging her hind legs at the prospect of meal. Her little bleat vibrated our hearts.

She had so much fight in her. "No, we will take her."

The farm was relieved as they didn't look forward to doing the inevitable for a girl with her condition. Unfortunately, many lambs with this condition are considered "cull lambs" because the level of care required often exceeds what someone is able/willing to do. It is a HUGE undertaking to balance both this condition and quality of life considerations.

The farm was very helpful in showing us how to tube feed her, and gave us lots of valuable information to give her the best possible chance at life. She didn't receive colostrum until we brought her home at about hour 15, which in itself provides it's own challenges with natural immunity.

We frantically searched all the spina bifida articles online, joined as many special needs pet groups as we could find, and started to contact veterinarians. We started locally, where we were told they did not have much experience with the condition so recommended larger cities. After hours of phone calls to veterinarians across Western Canada, most met with: "the prognosis isn't good, you should put her down", "this isn't going to end well", and "I'm so sorry you are upset, but this little lamby probably needs to go to little lamb heaven."

Meanwhile, this lamb was tucked in between my knees, chin resting on my thigh. Her eyes twitched and she mumbled a soft sound. She was dreaming, I wondered what she was dreaming of.

We finally found a livestock veterinarian willing to see her early the following week. She warned me, the condition was not well studied, and may not be the news I was hoping for, but was willing to see her.

Over the weekend we named this sweet lamb Stiorra. This is an old Norse name meaning "little star". Our little viking was in for the battle of her life, so we wanted to give her a strong name. As the days went on, the stronger she had become. She was able to walk three steps without falling, then five. She was wobbly but determined. She displayed her intelligence by avoiding different types of flooring, she learned that the carpets were safe, but that the linoleum in the bathroom and kitchen were lava and not to be trusted. All 4 of her legs would splay out and she would fall on the few attempts she had made to join us while we prepared her milk.

The vet visit came and a friend and I drove out with Stiorra. On this day, Stiorra was able to walk on the grass in long straight stretches without falling. The vet, upon examination, was happy with how "bright" Stiorra was. Aside from her Spina Bifida, and open lesion, she was a healthy and happy lamb. She had said as long as she remains this healthy and bright, she would be willing to work with her. She shared there were limited studies available to support her care plan. But said, that wasn't a deterrent to providing her treatment, as there is a first for everything. She gave us hope.

We took the next several weeks day by day. Stiorra also had a version of atresia ani, or a constricted anal sphincter which provided challenges with the elimination of her stool. We had to provide supportive care in the form of bladder expressions and enemas to prevent constipation. As she has gained more mobility, she has also gained the better function of her bowel movements, however, she still requires stimulation of her tummy to encourage her bladder. We currently do bladder expressions or stimulation at least 4 times/day.

With her determination, Stiorra has become much more mobile. She was running and jumping and playing like any other lamb, only a little weaker in the hind end. The disability never stopped her from living her fullest life. You can find many videos of her in her progress on Instagram and Tiktok (@lookatmyfarmanimals).

Stiorra must be seen by a neurologist team to obtain an MRI of her spine to understand the extent of her condition. This is critical, as the open lesion on her spine is a potential "highway for infection" directly into the spinal cord and brain stem. An infection of this nature would be life-threatening. It has been shared by the neurology team that sheep would be more prone to this sort of infection than other animals like cats/dogs. This makes this procedure extremely important to proceed with to ensure that she has the best possible chance at a full and long life.

The procedure would include an MRI, removal of tissues and repair, as well as a skin graft over the currently open spinal pocket by veterinarian neurologists. We have received a quote of $6,000-9000 USD from Western State University to complete both the MRI and surgery. This procedure would require her to stay at the University for one week before traveling home. We would then continue to complete physiotherapy and monitor her condition.

We had explored options in Canada to have this procedure completed, however after contacting most of the neurologists and training schools in Western Canada, we were denied as these clinics only deal with cats and dogs. *update, we have received one quote for an MRI $4300-5300 from Canada West Veterinary Specialists - however they are unsure if they would be willing to complete the surgery due to after care requirements*

We have had Stiorra's vet checked again by our regular livestock vet and he was impressed with her quality of life and suggested that Western State University would give her the best chance of effective treatment.

Stiorra has shown us that she wants to be here, so we are desperately searching for help to get her the treatment that she deserves. Spina Bifida is not well-researched in pets, but it most certainly does not need to equate to a death sentence as Stiorra has proved to us already.

We have a big hill to climb to raise enough funds to get her treatment, but we trust that others will find it in their hearts to donate their cup of coffee or weekly dinner out to give this girl a chance and help to see her thrive.

We would love to share updates with everyone as she progresses, and our biggest dream is to watch this beautiful girl grow old here on the farm.

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Aimee Kay
Slocan, BC

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