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Cooper's Heart

An update on Kendall and Cooper, the Christmas Eve heart transplant recipient and the homeless dog.

Cooper's "fan club", nurses at Abbott Heart Hospital
Cooper's "fan club", nurses at Abbott Heart Hospital

Look into a dog’s eyes and you will see something very special, you will see a beautiful soul looking back at you.  That is what I see and what I think when I think about Cooper, a dog who was adopted last January from the Prairie’s Edge Humane Society (PEHS) shelter by Kendall who had received a heart transplant on Christmas Eve of 2012.  This was one of our most read and most asked about stories which we shared back in February.  This was the story of a heart transplant patient released from the hospital on New Year’s Eve and a stray dog found on New Year’s Eve who were brought together for a reason, call it fate, call it a miracle, call it whatever you want but their story continues to amaze all of us.  You can read their original story by clicking on the link here:

http://northfield.patch.com/groups/sandy-vesledahls-blog/p/bp--a-new-heart-and-a-new-dog

Christmas seemed an appropriate time to update Kendall and Cooper’s story.  We had all hoped this story had found its perfect ending when they returned home to Dickinson, ND in early February to start their new lives, Kendall to continue the healing process from his heart transplant and Cooper adjusting to his new home.  In reality, their real journey had just begun. 

After returning home, Kendall was able to return to work for a few hours a day for a short time with Cooper by his side, lying on the floor of the office, keeping watch over Kendall.  The heart doctors had requested Kendall’s employer allow Cooper to accompany Kendall to work as they felt it would be beneficial to Kendall in helping with the side effects from the anti-rejection medications as well as the healing process.

Towards the end of February Kendall was experiencing extreme stomach pain and ended up in the emergency room in Dickinson, ND.  After running tests and not finding the cause Abbott Northwestern Heart Hospital in Minneapolis sent a jet to life flight Kendall from Dickinson to Minneapolis and admitted him to the Heart Hospital.  After many more tests, it was finally determined that Kendall had pneumonia as well as blood clots in his leg and his lungs.  He spent a full month at Abbott Heart Hospital while Cooper remained in Dickinson, ND. 

Kendall was scheduled to be the speaker at the annual Dinner and Silent Auction for the Prairie’s Edge Humane Society in March.  His doctors told him that they wanted him to be able to give many more speeches in his lifetime and in order to do so he would need to miss this one. What he had was life threatening and he was not stable or strong enough to leave the hospital.  Kendall was finally released from the hospital on March 26th and given the ok to go home to Cooper who had been missing him greatly.  When a wonderful supporter of Prairie’s Edge Humane Society and Airline Pilot for Delta airlines heard that Kendall would need someone to drive the 8 hours from Dickinson to pick him up and another 8 hour car ride home, she donated a “buddy” pass for Kendall to fly home.  It’s amazing how caring and wonderful the supporters of PEHS are whether it is for the animals or for a human in need as well.  Kendall returned to Dickinson and after only a few days at home was back in the Dickinson hospital.  There was a problem with the blood thinning he needed for the clots and he had to spend a couple of days in the Dickinson hospital while it was stabilized. 

Even though Cooper had only spent a short time with Kendall prior to him being hospitalized for a month, Cooper was very attentive to Kendall when he returned home and stuck close to his side, keeping a very close watch over him.  Cooper senses when Kendall is not feeling well and goes into “comfort” mode, laying across his legs or snuggling next to him.  Cooper knows when to be a goofy playful dog and when it’s time to be calm and work his magic making his human feel better.  Cooper is not a trained therapy dog; this is all natural instinct for him.  Animals seem to know when someone is hurting whether physically or emotionally and they want nothing more than to help and comfort.  

Unfortunately there continued to be complications with Kendall’s heart transplant.  Kendall’s kidneys were not working properly as well as other issues resulting in a return to Abbott in May.  Cooper made the trip from Dickinson with Kendall this time and would stay at my home so that he could be near Kendall.  Kendall had received permission from the hospital for Cooper to visit.  We would take Cooper to Abbott on a regular basis to visit Kendall while he spent several weeks in the hospital undergoing various tests to determine what was causing the complications.  Cooper became very well known at Abbott and word would spread each time he would visit.  The doctors and nurses always showed up in the room shortly after Cooper would arrive.  Seemed Cooper was providing therapy for more than just Kendall at the heart hospital. 

It was about a 45 minute drive to the hospital to visit Kendall and each time Cooper would lay quietly in the back seat until we would reach the freeway exit for the hospital.  At that point he knew exactly where he was going and would start to get excited and pace back and forth.  When we would pull in the parking ramp for the hospital he would whine until we got out of the car, then he would go into his “therapy” mode.  Even though Cooper was not a trained therapy dog, he seemed to know exactly what to do when arriving at the hospital.  Cooper was always calm and walked very close to me while walking the halls of the hospital.  He would immediately lie down when getting on the elevator.  After only a couple of days Cooper would actually lead me to Kendall’s hospital room.  He knew exactly where to go once we entered the hospital.  When entering Kendall’s room he would gently climb into the hospital bed and lie down next to Kendall.  He would not leave Kendall’s side until it was time for us to leave.  There were days Cooper would lie in the hospital bed with Kendall for up to 4 hours at a time.  

Over the next few weeks, Cooper would spend many days simply lying in the hospital bed with Kendall.  The doctors and nurses consistently commented how therapeutic Cooper’s visits were for Kendall.  It was common to be stopped in the hallway by Kendall’s doctors and thanked for bringing Cooper to visit.  I remember one day sitting in Kendall’s room while Cooper was visiting him and as usual many nurses and a few of the doctors had stopped in as they had heard Cooper was there.  The hospital Chaplain quietly slipped in the room and was watching everyone visit with Cooper.  He gave me the thumbs up sign and then left.  As Cooper and I were leaving the hospital that day, I ran into him in the hallway.  He told me that medicine could not do what Cooper was doing for Kendall and “kudos for making this happen”.  I told him it was Kendall and Cooper who made it happen, we were just lucky enough to be watching this special bond from the sidelines. 

It was eventually determined that Kendall would need additional surgery on his heart.  The pericardial sac which surrounds the heart had healed too tightly after the transplant causing his heart to not pump as it should, thus resulting in blood not flowing through his body as it should, including to his kidneys, causing his kidneys not to work properly.  A portion of the sac would need to be removed in order to fix the problem.  This surgery would be just as invasive as the original transplant surgery. 

The day prior to surgery Cooper was brought to the hospital to visit Kendall.  During this visit the surgery team came for their consultation with Kendall.  Cooper was lying in the bed with Kendall at the time.  Dr. Louis, the surgeon who would be doing Kendall’s surgery the following day had not met Cooper until this visit.  He spent some time quietly petting and talking to Cooper while in Kendall’s room.  After the surgery he told Kendall “when I looked into the eyes of that dog I knew I had to be on my A game for this surgery as it is very clear how much that dog loves you”.

Kendall’s surgery to repair the complication took six hours, only one hour less than the actual transplant surgery.  He would spend the next few days in the ICU.  Under normal circumstances the hospital does not allow visits from dogs in the ICU.  When Kendall asked Dr. Louis if there was any possibility he could get a visit from Cooper, the response was “absolutely”.  Dr. Louis knew the best therapy for Kendall was visits from Cooper. 

When Cooper was brought to visit Kendall this time however it was very obvious that Cooper knew things were much different and that Kendall was in a much weaker and fragile state.  He still had numerous tubes and wires hooked up to him and his chest was bandaged from the surgery.  Cooper was brought into ICU and Kendall motioned for him to climb in the bed.  Cooper placed his front paws on the bed but sat on the floor.  Even though he wanted to jump up with Kendall, he seemed to not be sure how he should get in the bed in order to not hurt Kendall, so the nurses lifted Cooper into the bed and he immediately lay down next to Kendall.  It was amazing to watch as Cooper gently sniffed the incision area and seemed to be checking out the tubes and monitors hooked up to Kendall, then gently laid his head across Kendall’s chest.  Kendall was having a tough day with pain and it seemed Cooper knew it.  There were a few teary eyed people in the room as we all watched this dog work his magic. 

Over the next few days as he gained his strength after surgery, Cooper would accompany Kendall on walks in the hospital hallways.  It was quite the sight to see Kendall using his walker, a nurse pushing the cart with a monitor and IV hooked up to Kendall and Cooper walking alongside.  They were a popular pair as well as a topic of conversation throughout the hospital.  Cooper’s visits gained him the nickname “Dr. Cooper, Heart Specialist”, even brandishing a bandana stating as such.

When Kendall was eventually discharged from the hospital in early June, Cooper was there to walk him out.  There were many stops before leaving the hospital however as Cooper had many friends who wanted to say goodbye to this dog who had become a fixture at Abbott.  Nurses, doctors, lab techs, social workers, and even other patients had gotten used to seeing Cooper on a regular basis and now were saying goodbye to this very special dog.

Cooper was by Kendall’s side over the next few months while he recovered at home.  In late August Kendall was finally healthy and strong enough to return to work full time.  Cooper accompanies Kendall to work on a regular basis.  They have become closer than ever.

This past week Kendall returned to Abbott for his one year post transplant checkup, Cooper came along as well.  After two days of testing, all of Kendall’s results came back good and his new heart is showing zero rejection.  He continues to gain back his strength and hopes one day to meet the family of his donor.  He recently told us that he is so thankful that we found Cooper and took care of him so that he could adopt him.  They needed each other, Cooper was a lost dog who needed a home and Kendall needed the love and support that Cooper had to share.  Animals end up with the person they are supposed to be with.  Cooper is Kendall’s best friend.

Kendall and Cooper each have much to be thankful for this Christmas.  Kendall has been given an extreme gift of a new heart and a longer life. Cooper has been given the gift of a loving home.  It truly does not matter what is under your Christmas tree, what matters is who is around it and it could not be more true than in the case of Kendall and Cooper.  Kendall tells us how blessed he is to have found Prairie’s Edge Humane Society and Cooper.  Blessings come in all forms Kendall, and we are blessed to have been able to be a part of this story.  Kendall will be spending his one year “birthday” on Christmas Eve with Cooper.  Merry Christmas Kendall and Cooper, may you spend many more together. 

 

 

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