Houston, We Have a Problem!
by Lauren Sanger, with edits by Kelsey Glass
In late August of 2019, one of Stream Valley’s favorite geriatrics and frequent boarders, a then 16-year-old male Wire Fox Terrier named Houston visited Stream Valley for an emergency exam. Houston had a big problem! He was in severe pain, recumbent, minimally responsive, had stiff legs and neck and unable to stand or walk. He was slowing down over the years because of his age, but he didn't appear to have significant impairment during his earlier week of boarding at Stream Valley; nothing too easily explained this abrupt change. Dr. Johnson examined Houston, performed routine radiographs and blood tests finding nothing that could easily explain his dire condition. Because it was late evening, Houston was given an injection of a strong painkiller (or analgesic). Dr. Corey recommended that he be transferred to The LifeCentre, a 24 hour veterinary emergency and specialty hospital in Leesburg, so he could be kept comfortable until Bush Neurology could examine him the next morning.
Houston was given another dose of analgesic and medication to take possible swelling in his brain down, but he was still weak in all four limbs (also known as being tetraparetic). A possible brain tumor was the top suspicion and an MRI was recommended, but declined for financial reasons and his grim prognosis if it was a tumor. Houston was then transferred back to Stream Valley and Dr. Corey reviewed Houston’s radiographs and lab work from the day before, looking for a possible cause for his abrupt change. She noticed an abnormality in Houston's spine that could be a bone infection, thus suggesting that Houston be hospitalized to “treat for the treatable." His radiographs were electronically delivered to an off-site boarded radiologist who confirmed the suspicion of discospondylitis, an infection in the vertebrae that causes a weak spot in his spine. Houston remained hospitalized on IV fluids, pain medications, antibiotics, strong anti-inflammatories, and good nursing care. Over the next 24-48 hours, Houston was more responsive and soon able to hold himself up. He mostly presented an arched back with his head down, but he took a few steps, toddling toward his family in the exam room.
It was at this visit that Dr. Corey asked if Houston had experienced some kind of trauma or a fall, because of his age and extreme need for an emergency exam. His owners could think of nothing until their son held up a video they had taken the day Houston came home from boarding at Stream Valley. The video showed Houston’s "rocket run" through the backyard and a leap from an upper patio to a stone patio below. At his landing, Houston stopped and shook himself out as if to say “oh, that was not smart." It still took a day or two before it was obvious that “Houston we have a problem!" The extreme leap resulted in the nerves of Houston’s spine being pinched at the area of infection, therefore causing bone weakness.
While still hospitalized at Stream Valley, it took time and physical therapy until Houston was walking again, albeit like the old man he was. To avoid his nerves being pinched again while the bone infection healed, Dr. Corey fashioned Houston a back brace using paint stir sticks from Home Depot and bandaging materials. His brace was changed a few times, but as Halloween approached and Houston was headed home, Dr. Corey added flaming jet rockets to his back brace, a tribute to the flying leap that resulted in his injury, his recovery, and of course his name! Houston's progress was slow but steady, but eventually he was running again while wearing his new navy blue back brace from Amazon. Just like the famous movie, this story had a happy ending and though Houston is now 17-years-old we hope he is happy to spend another Christmas with “his people back home on earth."