URBANA — The veterinarians at the University of Illinois have pulled Keri Bradbury's dog, Nakita, through a near-fatal case of tetanus.
Now it's up to doctors to do what they can for Bradbury.
A 40-year-old Pontiac mother of two, Bradbury said she learned she has colorectal cancer within a day of finding out her dog had tetanus.
The cancer runs in the family, she said, but she was surprised to find out a dog can even get tetanus.
"I had no idea," she said.
Bradbury said Nakita, a two-year-old American bulldog-pitbull mix, was about two months old when she adopted her.
A usually energetic dog, Nakita was acting lethargic last month and just "not herself," Bradbury said, so she took her to a veterinary clinic in Livingston County.
As it turns out, Nakita had two toenail tears from the door of a metal dog crate — where she stays when Bradbury goes to work in the kitchen at a local bar — and had picked up some bacteria in the cuts, Bradbury said.
The first trip to the vet was on a Monday, but the medications prescribed weren't helping, and two days later her dog was stiffening and could only drink water through a turkey baster. By that Friday, Feb. 22, Bradbury said, Nakita was nearly dead.
She and one of her daughers drove Nakita to the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital in Urbana the same day.
When Nakita arrived, she had the classic signs of tetanus, said Dr. Thandeka Ngwenyama, a UI veterinary resident in emergency and critical care.
"She had the classic sawhorse stance, where they're very rigid," she said.
Nakita also was suffering from heatstroke, brought on by tremors, Ngwenyama said.
"The problem is, they tremor so much, they can also overheat," she said.
Tetanus is rare in dogs. Ngwenyama said she's only seen one other case of it in a dog at the UI veterinary hospital in her four years there.
"It's quite painful," she said. "Just imagine having a cramp throughout your whole body."
Ngwenyama said Nakita was given muscle relaxers, sedatives and antibiotics. She was kept nourished through a feeding tube, and in low-lighting, with cotton in her ears, to avoid any stimulation that could set off more tremors.
By the third week, Nakita was able to sit up and eat on her own, and in her last week at the hospital, she was able to walk again.
"She's made a dramatic recovery, but only on Monday was she able to walk," Ngwenyama said,
Bradbury and daughters ages 11 and 20 took Nakita home earlier this week.
Nakita is still on medications and needs to wear booties when she goes outside for a time, Bradbury said.
"I have to wrap and unwrap her feet, because they cut two of her toes open because that's where bacteria started," said Bradbury, who has two other dogs.
In the future, she said she plans to leave Nakita's crate door open, "so she knows it's her house," but won't risk cutting herself again on the door.
For now, Bradbury said, it's safer for Nakita to sleep outside the crate on blankets because she's been trashing around with night terrors.
"It just takes time, and see what happens, and hopefully my dog comes back," Bradbury said.
The night terrors are likely from the tetanus, Ngwenyama said.
"Hopefully these will get better," she said.
Ngwenyama predicts Nakita won't suffer long-term effects.
"I wouldn't be surprised that in a week or two, she's not back to where she was," she said.
Bradbury still faces major challenges herself, with cancer treatment ahead and veterinary bills to pay.
She'll find out more about her care plan April 1, she said, but she's already been told she'll need surgery.
She still owes the UI veterinary hospital in the range of $12,000 for Nakita's care, she said.
Ngwenyama said about half the approximately $25,000 bill was settled with what Bradbury has already paid, plus the help of an unidentified donor and some UI assistance.
"When we have owners that don't have money, we try to set up some type of fund, but we're limited this year, and we try to encourage them to set up a Facebook page," she said.
An online donation site has been set up to help with Nakita's UI veterinary costs at: https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/9Suze
Ngwenyama said some dog owners would have stopped treatment in a case like this, but Bradbury had just found out she had cancer.
"I think why she wanted to keep going was she wanted Nakita to be her rock," she said. "She wanted Nakita to be her motivation to get through this."
And she just loves Nakita, Bradbury said.
"She's like my buddy," she said. "Everywhere I went, she went. I get up, she'd get up."
Her mother had to remind her that she's sick, too, because she skipped CT scans to be with Nakita, Bradbury said.
"It got to the point where I was more worried about her than I was about myself," she said.