Merlin's Story

Merlin, a black cat with white markings, sitting, sitting with a brown dog and rolling on his back.

Laryngeal Paralysis
By John & Carol Wiskerchen

Merlin’s story began on a hot summer day in June of 2003. We heard a tap on our door and were greeted by the sight of our 12-year old neighbor girl lugging a basket of farm-fresh kittens. Although we were already caring for a dog and two other house cats, the bundle of fuzzy felines was irresistible and we went outside for a closer look. After spending time with a dozen young kittens, Carol came into the house with pleading eyes, clutching a six-week-old black and white kitten that she had fallen in love with. 

With long and wispy fur and whiskers, he was quickly named Merlin and spent the next ten years of his life in paradise, lounging with his dog-buddies, begging for treats, and squawking at anyone who would give him the time of day. Although a giant of a cat, he was the picture of perfect health and always had an outgoing and friendly personality.

During the winter of 2013, when he was just shy of his 10th birthday, Merlin began to sneeze. We tried to dismiss it as nothing, but his sneezes grew in frequency over the next couple of weeks. When he started to sound like he was having breathing problems, we took him to a local vet. He was given a round of antibiotics but his condition deteriorated. Three days later he was back at the vet for more tests and a round of x-rays. At this point the local vet conceded that Merlin needed to be seen by the U of M.

The next day we drove 50 miles to the U of M VMC hospital where we had our first consult. While at the hospital, Merlin’s symptoms were at their worst. He was greatly struggling for air and made a horrible raspy sound with each breath. We were almost certain he was at the end of his rope. Then Dr. Lindsay Merkel and vet student Dana came into the room. They did their best to put us at ease, yet let us know all the possibilities of Merlin’s condition. We left him at the hospital for tests and received a call the next day informing us he had Laryngeal Paralysis. Merlin’s larynx was paralyzed and he couldn’t get enough air. He was also struggling to swallow and he would die very quickly without treatment. We quickly consented to surgery and he underwent a procedure that involved tying back one of his vocal cords. He was out of surgery and recovering within the next couple of hours. He spent the night in recovery and we went to pick him up the next day.

The next afternoon, we headed back to the hospital to bring Merlin home. We were a little startled when we saw that half of his neck was shaved. Being a longhair, it was a little distracting. He continued to make snoring sounds with each breath, but they were far less than they had been. Dr. Merkel thought that the noise would subside with time and that Merlin’s sinuses were temporarily inflamed. We were slightly saddened to hear he would probably never purr or meow again, but the fact that we had our buddy back was more than enough compensation.

At home that night, Merlin gurgled and snorted with every breath and movement. He rested quietly and later the next afternoon his noises all but stopped. The following morning he awoke us with a squawk that almost brought tears to our eyes. Our talking cat was back in business! For the next two weeks, Merlin showed continued improvement. He quickly re-learned to swallow and loved being spoiled with canned food, special feedings, and all the extra attention that came along with it. He is just as vocal as ever, but has just a little more rasp in his voice. We didn’t think it possible, but he has become even more affectionate and seems to be truly thankful that he is feeling good again.

Our family is eternally grateful for Dr. Merkel, Dana, the surgeons who worked on Merlin, and the entire staff at the VMC who made his recovery possible.

John, Carol & Merlin

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