Monday, February 22, 2010

Happy Birthday, Carmella!

Well, time sure has flown! Carmella is 2 years old today. She still looks and behaves much like a puppy, but sure enough she's all grown up.

I took some more beautiful shots of her.
This dog has a real sense of humor, and a presence which is almost human.
Sometimes I wonder whether she understands alot more about what's going on than I even realize.
On Saturday I went with a friend to Dr. Norwood's office when she was taking her dog in and got a chance to ask him whether he'd put in the referral for Carmella's MRI. He'd been sick with the flu that's been going around this winter, but told me he was going to get on it now and that somebody  at the specialty clinic could help pave the way for the MRI and a full neurological work-up.
Tonight while I was taking pictures of her eating she put her right front leg in that position I sometimes see in which her arch flattens almost all the way to the floor. I snapped a picture just before she moved it.
I hope we can get the right people on this to repair the damage. There are at least a few other dogs who could also benefit from this help if we can identify which of the various techniques will be the most effective.
Over the weekend I was reading alot of journal articles about stem cell transplant techniques, and there seem to be several versions currently being used. Luckily for Carmella, many of these are being done currently in dogs or at least are not illegal for use in dogs right now!
One foundation completely devoted to stem cell techniques and technology has put together a team of the top specialists in the world who are on the cutting edge of research in the field. Each of these specialists have their own sub-specialty and focus within stem cell research. Some of them are physicians for humans, and some are PhD level scientists. I plan on contacting some of them to see whether they can help brainstorm and solve Carmella's problem.
I didn't have a gift to give her today, but if we can restore her to the way she was before Distemper uprooted her life, that will be the best birthday present anyone could wish for.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Update on Carmella
On February 12th we had about 4 inches of snow here and I took some beautiful pictures of Carmella in it! She really had a great time running around in it. I'd been meaning to post these for awhile but have been so swamped making new products for my Etsy shop and working on getting Carmella's MRI arranged that I haven't had a chance until today.
I'm waiting for Dr. Norwood to get the necessary paperwork done because the clinic that has the MRI machine requires a referral to get an appointment with them. This MRI is way overdue, as I had wanted to have one done before she was treated for Distemper 16 months ago, then later to see if there was any documented healing of damage that was done to the CNS by the virus.
 Her stem cells have repaired some of the damage on their own (her back left leg) but since this is still new territory it is anybody's guess just how much damage will repair without help and when the endpoint is. Even Dr. Sears doesn't know what to expect. Like man's first walk on the moon, it seems Carmella's journey is a voyage of mystery.
I remain concerned about the awkward way she has had to hold her right, front leg for the past year to balance while it's constantly jerking, and the changes to the wrist that have taken place.
Seeing her run like a jackrabbit across the yard in the snow the other day made me realize just how precious that is and I don't want her to get to the point that she can't do that anymore. It would be a tragedy after all this if atrophy left her even more disabled than when she had Distemper.
In every other way she is healthy and robust.  It is hard to know until we look at the brain and spinal cord whether the problem is all demyelination, whether scar tissue has complicated the neural pathways (or both). I just wish that I had the appointment set up so that we'll have an answer soon. I'm going to call Dr. Norwood again today to see whether the wheels are in motion, and hopefully get that referral done today.
I'm finding it hard to think of anything else even while I'm working on other things. Sales have been at a standstill this month so far and I don't know why. Had I been making better sales her bill could have been paid off by now. I'm looking into the possibility of doing two indoor shows, but they're at least a month or so away, if I can arrange it. I'm also keeping my eyes peeled for new stores to carry my work.

I'm still collecting Carmella's fur for the miniature I'm making of her. I have the wire armature frame made and next I will add the core wool. Here is a picture;
My plan is to make a number of different miniatures of dogs who have been cured of distemper the way Carmella has.

Squirrels have taken up residence in my attic and they wake Carmella up as soon as it gets light outside, squeeking and chasing around above my bedroom like mischievous children with too much time on their hands.

There must be an overpopulation of squirrels in this area, as it almost seems like an infestation!

The first time I heard the noises they made in the attic I thought a nest of birds had hatched up there.

Carmella jumps off my bed about 6 times every morning until I drag myself out of bed to let her out so that I can rest.
More often than not she's more interested in looking out the window in the computer room at the front of the house than going outside, so I have to practically shove her out the door after she plays dead and limp on the livingroom rug. She looks up at me as if she thinks it's funny. I am not amused, trying to lift her up and out while a blast of cold air bursts into the house, her body like a sack of potatoes. It's way too early for these kinds of shennanigans.

All of this usually takes several minutes of coaxing and chasing her from room to room as she tears around the house like a greyhound on the racetrack before I can finally convince her to go outside.
Once out she seems to enjoy the crisp air and she runs over to the side where the neighbors are just getting into their cars to head off for work, barks a few times, then runs back across the expanse of the yard to nose around in the leaves and pinestraw that have dropped from the trees and chewing on fallen branches.
The snow is gone but it was fun while it lasted.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Eating On A Budget in Today's Economy

If you're not making alot of money you may think you can't afford to eat with today's food prices what they are, but with a little ingenuity you can turn ordinary and inexpensive ingredients into a very nice meal!

Have you ever seen those bags of pre-made seasoned croutons at the grocery store that cost around $4.00 for about as much as you'd get in a single serving potato chip bag? You may even have bought them.

Here's how you can create croutons just as high-class and do it on a shoe string. How many of you have pieces of left over stale or soon-to-expire bread lying around your house that you don't think you can do anything with but throw away?

I get these nice ready-to-bake french breads from Kroger that cost about $1.99 and I often end up with remnants that start to expire before I can eat the whole loaf. I do one of two things with them; either cut them in slices and let them dry out (to prevent mold) and then use them later as toast with cheese or butter by browning them in a toaster oven, or I make my fancy but easy crouton recipe with them.

You can make these with ordinary spices you have around your house, and if you have a Farmer's Market in your city you can get these spices even more inexpensively than you can at any commercial market. Powdered Rosemary is great because you can have the flavor and all the health benefits without constantly having to pick out all those stiff little leaves. Not all commercial grocery stores carry it but if you have a Farmer's Market or an organic food store they will most likely carry it.

If you also have butter or olive oil (or even margerine) then you have the ingredients for a batch of delicious croutons you can use in any salad, soup, or even as a snack.

These are the ingredients:

* Bread cut into cubes (as much or as little as you have)
* Garlic Salt (to taste)
* Old Bay Seasoning (to taste)
* Pepper (to taste)
* Powdered Rosemary (just a light dusting)
* Oregano or Italian Seasoning (optional)
* Butter, Olive Oil, or Margerine (a scattering of little pieces or dribbles evenly distributed)
*Toaster oven tray or cookie sheet lined with tin foil

Once you have all the ingredients prepared in your toaster oven tray or cookie sheet, place this in the toaster oven on "dark" or in a 400 degree oven.

Make sure to watch them carefully so that they don't burn, as each oven varies somewhat.

If you find that some areas are crispy and some are still soggy with the butter, scoop the done ones out and place the others in fir a little longer. What you're looking for is that rich golden brown and the croutons should be crispy.

Then remove them from the oven when ready, dump them onto a paper towel to remove excess butter or oil, let cool for about an hour in the open air, and they are ready to use!

Because they are crisp and moisture has been removed they can be kept in an air tight container or plastic bag outside the refrigerator without molding or getting stale for quite awhile. I have had these stay fresh for more than a month!

Campbell's tomato soup goes well with these, and if you get it at the right places you can buy it for around .69 a can.

The entire meal probably costs you $1.50 at the most for a whole can of soup and one serving of croutons! If you add a salad to that then it might cost you $2.50 for the entire meal!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Healing The Damage of Distemper-The Next Leg of the Journey
It's been a year as of October 1st, 2009 since Carmella has had the CSF procedure and though she's done alot of healing it appears that the myoclonus in her right front leg still remains. Generally everything that will heal on its own will have done so after a year.
Her leg has over time become somewhat weakened as though she has a fallen arch and that appears to be from holding it in an awkward position much of the time in an attempt to balance herself. The wrist looks somewhat elongated compared to the other and she holds it up off the ground or even knuckled over the way a primate holds its hand leaning on it on the ground. This is not natural for a dog and I'm worried if left that way could result in further weakening, and atrophy.
Dr. Norwood noticed this too the last time he saw her in the office, and it has continued to worry me. Initially I was looking into the use of Quinine but only found one research paper but then was not able to find it again to give him.

I started thinking about stem cell transplant, as I have heard more and more about this in human spinal cord regeneration. Since Distemper-caused myoclonus generally originates in the brain stem or spinal cord around the shoulder of the dog it occurred to me that maybe if a stem cell transplant could be done on that area that was damaged by the virus Carmella could regenerate new myelin!

When I did a search I found that MS has been particularly challenging for scientists to treat with stem cell replacement because there is a missing link in the technique that would make it more complete for that disease which is not as complex in other diseases and injuries.

MS in humans is closely related to canine distemper in much of its biochemistry, but my hope is that the reason MS is so tricky to treat with stem cell replacement is that research has been done on non-cured patients, whereas Carmella no longer has active distemper (so the damage , I believe, would more closely approximate a regular spinal cord injury).

I'm thinking she may need an MRI to find out exactly where the damage exists and whether it's just one small area or whether it's more than one.

I found this company that offers stem cell harvesting from the dog and preparation for transplant;

They mostly mention things like ligaments, but I found alot online about the possibility of CNS applications for it, so I think this just might work!

Carmella does not look very comfortable having to live with the constant jerking and a leg that seems like it might or might not support her weight at any given time, and at times her wrist nearly lies flat on he ground when she doesn't hold it knuckled over, looking more like a hoof sometimes than a paw, so if I can get this for her, and it works I'll be thrilled.

If Carmella's experience proves successful this will provide alot of hope to other dogs out there who did not get the Distemper treatment soon enough to prevent this sort of permanent damage!