Small Service Dog from Animal Shelter Has Big Job During Little Girl’s Surgery

| by Denise A Justin
A small white terrier mix without a medical degree was an important part of the surgical team that operated on her young owner, Kaelyn Krawczyk, at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina on Wednesday.

The dog, named JJ, was allowed to be present in the procedure room because her nose is more sensitive than any medical instrument at detecting when 7-year-old Kaelyn is having a dangerous allergic reaction, the report states.

The fluffy little terrier has been Kaelyn’s service dog for the past 18 months, after she was trained by Deb Cunningham at Eyes, Ears, Nose and Paws in Carboro, who works with dogs that help a person who goes into medical distress. In Kaelyn’s case, JJ surpassed expectations and learned to detect that something was happening at a molecular level, even before Kaelyn showed signs of a problem.

Dr. Brad Taicher was the anesthesiologist who obtained hospital permission to accommodate JJ so that she could be near Kaelyn during the procedure and signal an alert if Kaelyn was in any danger of going into anaphylactic shock as she had before. He told Cary News, “It was kind of logical, actually.“Knowing what JJ could do, we realized that JJ was not much different from other monitors we use.”

They found that JJ was even better.

Kaelyn has a rare illness called mastocytosis, in which her body releases “alarm” chemicals such as histamines in reaction to heat, cold and sometimes unknown triggers. The outward signs of an attack can be as subtle as facial flushing or as severe as a sharp drop in blood pressure that could lead to a heart attack, if unchecked, the Cary News explains.

Cunningham was able to train JJ, whom she describes as a white fluffball rescued from an animal shelter, to alert to whatever it is – even allergists don’t really know – that Kaelyn exhales or exudes from her skin when her mast cells are going berserk, instead of aiding the healing process.

Before JJ entered KK’s life, she had three to four severe reactions a year. Since JJ came to live with the family last year, there has been only one, the report states. That’s because JJ alerts before the reaction progresses, giving Kaelyn’s parents time to take action to have her stop what she’s doing to give her body time to calm down.

JJ is no stranger to Duke, because she has accompanied Kaelyn on visits to the emergency room and for other procedures. Service animals are not uncommon in the hospital.

While JJ couldn’t be allowed into a sterile operating room on Wednesday, she could go into a less strict procedure room. JJ had a good bath on Tuesday night, as she always does before going to the hospital.

Early Wednesday, JJ went into the procedure room with Cunningham, the trainer, and sat on the floor under Cunningham’s chair, the Cary News states. Cunningham watched JJ while the anesthesiologist watched his electronic monitors.

Taicher says going into sedation and coming out of it are the most likely times for any patient to react to a sedative, so he watched for any sign that Kaelyn was having trouble.

Though his monitors showed no change in Kaelyn’s vital signs, JJ got up and turned circles as Kaelyn went under the effects of the drug, Taicher said – a mild alert. Then she sat back down.

Dr. Sherry Ross, performed Wednesday’s procedure to look for a cause of Kaelyn’s recurring kidney infections. As her beloved owner was brought out of sedation, JJ got up and turned a couple of circles again.

“It was just as we expected,” Taicher said. “If we had had a script, she followed it to a T. ”

Though Ross and Taicher are aware of many medical uses of dogs, including detecting blood-sugar fluctuations in diabetics, Taicher said he was impressed with JJ’s abilities.

“It sounds silly, in this age of technology, when we have millions of dollars worth of equipment beeping around me, that we had a little dog who was more sensitive than all the machines,” he said.

Sources: Cary News