Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Happy Birthday Marta

Statistics state that 60% of Feline Leukemia positive cats die within 2 years of diagnosis, the number goes up to 85% by 3 years. That was the first thought to go through my mind when Heather, a clinic client, called to ask if I might be able to give a Feline Leukemia positive (FeLV+) cat a home.

Heather had called me in the past knowing that I had a FeLV+ cat at home and had given a home to several similar kitties over the years. She was fostering a FeLV+ momma and her new kittens. Having their own non-FeLV kitties to care for meant keeping the 2 groups separated. This is not always an easy task. My heart felt for the momma and kittens, but sadly, I had to say no, I was not able to add so many more cats to the household.

With time the virus took it's toll and one by one, momma and the kittens died. Now alone, her family gone, and hearing people and cats on the side of the door where she couldn't be, the 2 year old cat meowed her loneliness. Again, my heart felt for her.

This time it was one cat not several. This time I could see my own FeLV cat was lonely for a feline friend. This time I could say yes, but... the statistics ran through my mind.

My own "statistics" (it sounds so harsh when speaking about cats I loved so dearly) were worse. The 2 FeLV+ females that preceded this cat each lived only 15 months, my first FeLV+ male lived just past 2 years, my current FeLV+ male was just reaching 1 years old. Did I really want to take on a 2yr old FeLV cat, especially with my history? Did I really want to take on a cat that would break my heart at any time? Could I really ask my husband, who loved the cats as much as I did, to do it all again?

For any of you who have seen the movie, "Risky Business", you may recall the memorable quote by Joel's father "Sometimes you just gotta say what the heck". Maybe you recall Joel's friend Miles telling him the same thing only more graphically.

It was time for me to say "what the heck". For those of you who know me, this is not done easily or often, but I said it. I had a cat that needed a friend, there was a cat that needed love and a family, and I had plenty of love to give. What the heck.

Heather brought her to the clinic for for an exam and vaccines, and to introduce us. Her name was Marta. She was a 2 year old brown tabby and white short haired cat. She was overweight due to her lifetime of restriction to a single room, but otherwise healthy. She was a sweetheart.

At the end of the day Marta, along with her favorite toy, a flexible styrofoam rod, came home with me. She was quiet during our ride home, and quiet as she explored the new room that was to be her new home as she acclimated to her new life.

Marta's next few days were spent under the bed, coming out only when Bill or I were there with her. Soon, we found her snoozing on the bed or up on the perch we had set up for her to look out the window. During this time, Butters, my FeLV+ cat, stood watch at the door curious at the new kitty on the other side. From time to time, paws reached under the door from both directions.

When we thought she was ready, we opened the door to let her meet Butters and to begin to explore the rest of her new home. Butters adored Marta, Marta did not share his feelings but tolerated him. Marta preferred the safety of the familiar room but began to venture out and explore the bottom level. She spent her days gazing out the sliding glass door.

Milestones occurred...she took her first cautious steps on the stairway and a month after coming home, made her 1st appearance on the middle level. Soon afterward, she gathered the courage to climb the open stairway to the top level. The entire house was now her domain. Butters was accepted.

Summer came and went, giving way to winter. Marta helped put up her first Christmas tree. Winter gave way to summer, and as the sun moved farther south in the sky, the sunny spots in the house changed and Marta moved with them. Sadly, Butters became one of the 60% of FeLV cats that die within 2 years of diagnosis. Marta beat the odds, Marta turned 3, then she turned 4, and 5, and kept going.

Like most cats throughout their lifetime, Marta would show signs of illness. A vomiting spell, a period of decreased appetite, a bout of coughing. But she wasn't like most cats, she had Leukemia. Each time I feared the worst, was this "it"? And each time she recovered.

On Christmas eve day 2006 Marta wasn't herself. Always the Veterinarian, I examined her and felt a very large firm bladder. I recall telling Bill that if she were a male cat, I'd be concerned about a urinary blockage. As our families were arriving for Christmas, Marta and I were on our way out the door to the Emergency Clinic for Animals. The Dr. agreed with my assessment, so blood and urine tests were ordered. A quick ultrasound was performed on her bladder didn't find any stones but it looked like there may be a mass in her bladder, more tests were needed. I returned home to continue with Christmas activities but my thoughts were with Marta and her bladder mass. Lymphoma is a type of cancer associated with Feline Leukemia...was this an unusual presentation or did she have the still uncommon but more typical bladder tumor...was this "it"?

Late that night I received the diagnosis..special x-ray studies had confirmed that it was a bladder stone, not a mass. This was great news, the stone could be removed surgically. Would I authorize surgery on a 5 year old FeLV+ cat that had lived well past the time most cat do? Would I authorize surgery on a cat that potentially could die of leukemia at any time? Absolutely. What the heck.

Marta had an ammonium urate stone. This type of stone accounts for only 5% of bladder stones found in cats. Leave it to Marta to have a rare stone AND to be the only obstructed female cat I have seen in 20 years of practice, she's beaten the odds again!

Marta still has the occasional spell of vomiting and decreased appetite but her most recent lab tests look good. She has to contend with summer thunderstorms which she hates, and the addition of Gator, our Catahoula/Lab mix puppy adopted in January. She now has to duck under a barricade to get to her litter box and jump up to the counters to eat, but otherwise life is good.

Days are spent dozing in the sunbeams or gazing out the 3rd story windows watching the birds and animals that make their homes in our 5 acres of woods and prairie. Every jump up to the counter is rewarded with favorite treats, and brushing occurs as often as she'll allow. Evenings are spent on laps as we watch TV or work on the laptop. Nights are spent sleeping on the bed with us, starting out on Bill and moving to the pillow where she sleeps ON my head.

Over the last year, she has expanded her "duties" and has become "Nurse Marta". Marta rarely left Bill's side as he recuperated from his broken hip suffered last Memorial Day weekend in a bicycling accident (we joked that Nurse Marta was applying heat therapy because she insisted on laying on the broken hip) and did the same when the rod & pin were removed this May. After I was diagnosed with a blood clot in my leg and told to lay with my legs higher than my heart, Nurse Marta settled in on my lap, ensuring that I wouldn't move for fear of disturbing her.

Today, June 1, is the date that 9 years ago was designated as her birthday. Today she continues to beat the odds. Everyone who knows me, has heard me refer to her as my "miracle girl". Words can't express how grateful I am that 9 years ago Heather
called one more time to see if I could give her a home, and that I said "what the heck". Words can't describe how comforting it is to fall asleep to the sound of purring every night, even if it is on my head; and how stress melts away when petting her soft silky coat. I love to watch as she gets so excited watching the birds or see her completely as peace sleeping in her favorite sunny spots.

Happy Birthday Marta, I love you with all my heart.

Marta on her sunny spot on the stairs


Marisa said...

Happy Birthday Marta! I'm so glad she's still doing so well Dr. Challoner!

shannon said...

What an inspiration! I'm looking for a possible friend for our FeLV boy and keep stumbling upon your name. Thank you for being an open minded vet! I keep hearing of some kitties who beat the odds and pass 10, 12 years of age. No matter what they deserve love and quality of years. The misconceptions surrounding FIV seem to be melting away - let's hope the same will happen with FeLV.