Animal hospital goes beyond the call of duty

“He came to me with the proposal and said that Gaea … was a really good dog and one of the sweetest dogs he’d seen in quite some time,” Jennifer Zamprelli said. “He wanted to give her her best chance.”

BREMERTON — Thanks to the Wheaton Way Veterinarian Hospital, Jennifer Zamprelli’s faith in humanity has been restored.

She took her new puppy Gaea, who was not quite 12 weeks old at the time, for a regular check up, telling the vet that Gaea was unable to keep food down, she received an awful diagnosis: congenital megaesophagus (ME).

According to Wikipedia, ME is a condition where the esophagus is enlarged, making it difficult or impossible for food consumed to be pushed down into the stomach. The food will stay in the esophagus until it is regurgitated, then enters the lungs through breathing or decays in the esophagus.

Zamprelli said that when she received the news, she was also told the price of surgery to resolve the condition could range from $5,000 to $7,000, well out of the price range of the single mother who recently started her own business.

“I went home and I cried and I prayed, and I had a lot to think about,” Zamprelli said. “The next afternoon, I went in and spoke to Dr. Dave (Luttinen) in person and we had a nice, long conversation.”

Luttinen and his wife Jenn, who Zamprelli said is a certified vet technician, own the Wheaton Way Veterinary Hospital. Luttinen became involved at the initial visit with Gaea, Zamprelli said, after the routine checkup went “so sideways.”

“I believed at that time that the best thing for the puppy, and myself and my family, would be to euthanize her,” Zamprelli said. “There was just no way that I would be able to come up with the $5,000 to $7,000 for the surgery.

“That was that. I said my piece and had my cry and went home.”

But then, she said Luttinen called her about six hours later with a proposal.

“He came to me with the proposal and said that Gaea … was a really good dog and one of the sweetest dogs he’d seen in quite some time,” Zamprelli said. “He wanted to give her her best chance.”

On Wheaton Way Veterinary Hospital’s Facebook page, Luttinen posted an entry on July 23:

“Our team discussed this issue and decided to provide the necessary care, including overnight post-operative care, everything included, for $1,000 to cover some of our costs.

“We really want to give the puppy the best chance at survival and recovery for both the client and her (7)-year-old son.”

Zamprelli said she was overwhelmed. “I fell to my knees, I praised the universe. I couldn’t believe it — and maxed out a brand new credit card.”

She added that the idea of having to tell her son, “who’s been afraid of dogs as long as I can remember,” that she would have to have his brand new puppy, with whom he’d bonded, euthanized, “killed” her.

“I was completely overwhelmed, but the universe heard my cry,” she said. “That’s everything to me. I have no history here. I’m not dialed into the good old boys network. I just moved here in April.

“It’s just me and my 7 year old, and we are an island of two … We just walked into a stranger’s house and they threw the doors wide open with nothing but light and love, and that little light of unsolicited kindness has restored my faith in humanity. That’s what they’ve done for me.”

So Gaea received her life-saving surgery.

Zamprelli said she was told that normally the vets would try to “fatten her up” a little bit so Gaea would be stronger for surgery. She said the surgery had to quickly take place because of the severity of Gaea’s condition.

“Once he opened her up, it was more complicated than the X-rays had originally led them to believe.”

Zamprelli said from the X-rays, the vets believed one of Gaea’s heart ventricles had wrapped around her esophagus. But upon closer examination, the ventricle had split into two and “entwined itself in the esophagus, almost like a braid.”

After a four-hour surgery performed by Luttinen, Gaea was done. Luttinen and his wife took the puppy home that first night to ensure she received the proper care. The next day, Zamprelli and her son were able to take Gaea home with them.

“She’s jut a miracle pup,” Zamprelli said. “Pure love and sheer will. That’s all I’ve got, and God’s good grace.”

Gaea is now required to eat just soft food in an upright position. After she’s finished eating, Zamprelli said she has to remain in that position for at least 20 minutes. This will last for at least three months while the esophagus is healing and reforming, Zamprelli said.

“We’re in it for life,” Zamprelli said. “She should have a very long, happy, healthy life for 10, 12, 15 years. But … for the remainder of her life, she may be special needs, and that may be how she needs to eat forever. We don’t know yet. We’ll see.”