Two months before Asia’s 7th birthday - in April of 2018 - I noticed her appetite was decreasing and she was sleeping a lot more than usual. I called my vet’s office and made her an appointment. The morning of the appointment, I noticed the insides of Asia’s ears were stark white. I checked her gums, and they were also white. I rushed her to the vet early, thinking she was bleeding internally. After blood draws, vitals, and x-rays were done, she was diagnosed with IMHA (immune mediated hemolytic anemia), which basically means her immune system was attacking its own red blood cells. This chronic condition kills thousands of dogs and cats every year.
At this time, my 16-year-old had also just been diagnosed with Scheuermann’s disease, and after visits to our family doctor, ORA, and trips to specialists in Iowa City, the bills were adding up. I also have two autoimmune disorders and was paying for monthly rheumatologist visits and medications. My hours had been reduced at work due to business being slow, and Asia's labs and X-rays had just used the last of our tax return. I started panicking. I was going lose my dog because of this horrible timing financially.
That’s when a friend of mine mentioned Rescued. I contacted Erin Granet, and she responded to my message right away. Erin took down all of my information. She helped me financially with Asia’s weekly blood draws and medication costs until I could get back on my feet.
At the time of diagnosis, Asia’s packed cell volume (PCV) was 20%, and she was started on 20 mg of prednisone twice a day. Our vet said a normal PCV range was 35% to 55%. After two days, her PCV had dropped to 16%. Two days later it had dropped even further to 14%. “Crisis level” is 10% to 12%. Our vet wanted us to see a specialist and possibly start blood transfusions. Time was the main concern - Asia needed time for the medicine to start working.
I called and found that a visit, blood transfusion, and overnight stay with the specialist was estimated to cost from $600-$800. One transfusion was also not guaranteed to work—it was possible she would need multiple transfusions. I told our vet I couldn't afford the specialist and asked if there was anything else we could do. The fact that Asia was still on a leash, pulling me into our vet’s office with a PCV of 14% was amazing. My vet says she usually sees dogs being carried in at that level. So we increased her prednisone to 60 mg a day and started a second medication—an immunosuppressant called Azathioprine.
I took her home and spent the weekend just loving on her and spoiling her. Four days later, her PCV went up to 16%, and it stayed at 16% for a week or more. We had to worry about blood clots, which can kill pets as a side effect of IMHA treatment, so she couldn't stay on that high dose of prednisone for very long. But we were hoping it would be long enough for the Azathioprine to start working. I was checking her stool and urine for blood daily and making sure she ate and drank. I was in a support group for IMHA, watching pets pass with this horrible diagnosis weekly.
With IMHA, the PCV doesn’t simply rise. It’s a roller coaster: it goes up, it falls, and then it rises up again. At first, we were getting blood draws every week to check her PCV. After months of these weekly checks, we were able to decrease the number of blood draws to once every two weeks, then once a month, and so on. Treatment with IMHA is a slow process. Asia is almost ten months into treatment, and weaning off her meds has been successful. Her last PCV was 55%!
Erin at Rescued offered more than just financial help. I could tell in her messages that she truly cared. She kept updated on Asia's progress—on her rising and falling PCV numbers as well as on her medication progress. The fact that a complete stranger did this for us astounds me even to this day. I will never forget her generosity, her encouragement and her kindness. I will forever be a rescued shopper and supporter.
Asia May pitbull terrier
Photo: Francescon Portraitures