Buddy's Story

The golden retriever, Buddy, sitting. He is missing his left forelimb.

Dear VMC staff,

I’d like to share the story of our wonderful golden retriever, Buddy. In February, 2012, we noticed that Buddy was limping, favoring his front left leg. Upon taking him to see our regular vet, Dr, Sliverstein, we received an initial diagnosis of a sprained ankle, so Buddy was given an anti-inflammatory medication which seemed to help out, as his limping stopped – until the medication was gone. The limping returned, and we brought Buddy back in, at which point x-rays were taken, which was followed by a heart-breaking diagnosis. Dr. Silverstien was 99% sure that the mass he saw in Buddy’s leg was a tumor, and that it was most likely cancerous. We felt like we were kicked in the gut – Buddy was only 6-1/2 years old, how could he possibly have cancer? Dr. Silverstein was very compassionate, while at the same time, gave us a great deal of information regarding treatment options. One of the options we were given was to bring Buddy to the U of M vet center to discuss a research study with the U of M oncology department. Upon reviewing Buddy’s x-rays, the oncologist confirmed Buddy’s diagnosis, and proceeded to tell us about the research study, the treatments, and the costs that would be involved. Buddy had a form of osteosarcoma in the lower wrist joint of his front left leg. The research study that most intrigued us was being led up by Dr. Vicki Wilke at the U of M, and involved giving Buddy a genetically modified form of the salmonella virus, with the theory being that while fighting off the salmonella, Buddy’s immune system would kick into “high gear” to also fight off the cancer cells. The salmonella treatments would then be combined with 5 chemotherapy treatments. As if this wasn’t enough to think about, all of the medication treatments were to be preceded by Buddy having his front left leg amputated. Wow… the thought of having a 3 legged dog at home recovering from a major surgery, while going through experimental medication, and then chemotherapy treatments was almost too much to handle. We thought long and hard about what we should do, including our two teenage kids in the discussions. We changed our mind a few times, but finally decided that we weren’t ready to say goodbye to Buddy. The knowledge that the results of this study would be used as part of an ongoing study for this same treatment option on young children diagnosed with osteosarcoma helped us to make the decision. If children with this awful disease could be helped by this research, we wanted to make sure Buddy was a part of the story.

On Thursday, April 11, Buddy had his front left leg amputated by Dr. Wilke. We were as ready as we thought we could be to bring home a “tri-pawed” dog, with the purchase of a ramp to get up our front steps, and a sling to help Buddy walk in the house and yard. Upon picking Buddy up the day after his surgery, he actually looked very happy, even with half of his body shaved, and one leg gone. We had been told that the tumor was most likely so painful for him that the pain of the surgery may had been a relief to him. The techs helped to lift Buddy into our car, and upon getting home, we helped him out of the car, and to our amazement, he hopped up the sidewalk, and up the 3 stairs to our front door without the help of the ramp or the sling! I don’t want to make it sound like it was without a lot of work, as he wasn’t comfortable walking on our kitchen floor (too slippery!), and he had to wear a t-shirt all the time to keep him from licking at his large wound. Three weeks after the surgery Buddy had his 1st salmonella and chemotherapy treatment, and a week after each treatment, he was back at the U of M for blood tests, and stool sample checks. The doctors were looking to see if there was any sign of the salmonella in his stools which they didn’t want to see as they wanted his immune system to kill it all off. Blood samples were taken to check his white cell counts. After every treatment, Buddy’s blood looked good, and his stools showed no signs of the salmonella. A couple of times during the treatments, Buddy also had chest x-rays to see if there was any sign of the cancer spreading, as this type of cancer will most likely come back as lung cancer. 

Buddy absolutely loved going to the U of M! Every time we drove him there he would remember where he was within a few blocks of the vet center and got very excited in the car. Once there, he hopped out of the car and would run up to the door to get inside. He knew his way around the winding hallways and would stop at the oncology door, waiting to see his friends! Buddy’s last treatment was in July, 2011, and as of his re-check appointment in mid-September 2012, he is cancer free. Buddy turned 7 on June 14, and we are so grateful for the extra time that we have had with him. He loves playing with his toys, carrying his favorite rawhide bone around the house (it’s too special to eat!), running around the backyard, and going on short walks around the block. The staff at the U of M couldn’t have been more helpful, compassionate, and friendly towards Buddy and our family. I have often thought that our medical system would be in much better shape if we had human doctors that are as caring as the animal doctors that we worked with at the U. Thank you Dr. Wilke and your whole team for your continued research and wonderful care. 

Update – September, 2013
Buddy continues to do well with no recurrence of cancer. He was recently featured in a fundraising video for “Project Stealth”, which is the code name for the research program involving the salmonella treatments. He is now a media star!

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