Each day we are faced with choices. Choices can impact us in small ways and choices can impact us on a much larger scale.  The most important choice we will ever make is the choice to take a chance in changing a life.

Animal shelters have the unfortunate task of prioritizing animals according to their illness or injury. Animals diagnosed with an illnesses resulting in poor quality of life typically constitute immediate euthanasia, in most shelters. Hydrocephalus, an accumulation of cerebral spinal fluid on the brain, is one such condition.

Every day, animal rescue groups work tirelessly to provide at risk animals with a chance at life. In July 2015, an animal rescue group took a chance on Zeke, a domestic shorthaired kitten suspected of having Hydrocephalus. The rescue pulled Zeke from a Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas shelter and immediately contacted Super Hero’s Animal Hydrocephalus Society (SHAHS) as they specialize in cats with this condition. Without hesitation, SHAHS accepted Zeke into their sanctuary to give him a chance at life as hydrocephalus is commonly referred to as a death sentence for shelter animals. Pulled from the brink of death, Zeke was flown from Texas to New York, but upon arrival at SHAHS, volunteer Lisa reported Zeke was in far worse condition than initially anticipated. He weighed a mere 13 oz. and was approximately 6 weeks old compared to the initial estimation of 13 weeks of age. Zeke became dehydrated within one day of his arrival and his gastro-intestinal functions ceased all motility. After spending five days in the hospital, SHAHS’ specialists suspected Zeke not only had congenital hydrocephalus, but VACTERL association as well which is defined as the “non-random co-occurrence of birth defects.”

Zeke’s health was grave. He required recurrent hospitalization over the following two months which resulted in the diagnosis of multiple life threatening conditions. Zeke was diagnosed with; Severe Hydrocephalus, Mega-esophagus (enlarged esophagus), Gastro-esophageal reflux, Flaccid intestines, Radial Agenesis (deformities of the radius and ulna in the legs), Entropion (inverted/folded eyelids), Undescended Testes, Lumbosacral spinal cord damage, Vertebral deformities of the tail, physical deformities to his front paws, and deformed and extra nails in his front paws. These unforeseen conditions lead to expending almost all the money initially raised for Zeke’s hydrocephalus surgery. A decision was made to postpone the hydrocephalus surgery, since at the time, Zeke was “not decompensating neurologically.” Zeke was started on multiple medications to treat his GI issues and hydrocephalus. In addition, he was started on a special diet of a thick consistency to prevent choking thereby diminishing the possibility of aspiration, which can quickly lead to pneumonia. Zeke was fed small meals every 4 hours and required to be fed in an upright position. He needed to remain in this position for at least 5-10 minutes after each feeding.  SHAHS therefore constructed a special Bailey Chair for Zeke, which would keep him upright, since they could not locate one small enough for him.

Despite all of Zeke’s gastro-intestinal issues he responded very well to this intensive routine and gained 4 pounds in 3 months. Although this routine was very labor intensive, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, rescuers were determined to continue to provide Zeke with a chance of a quality life. Unfortunately, Zeke took a turn for the worse in September 2015. He suddenly began experiencing worsening neurological symptoms, suggesting the hydrocephalus may be progressing faster than anticipated. An emergency MRI revealed the need for a shunt to drain the fluid collecting on his brain. Implantation of the shunt would allow the fluid to drain into his abdomen where it can then be absorbed by his body. At this time Zeke weighed 5 pounds and his head was the size of a “neonate infant”, therefore he would require a neonatal size shunt. Specialists at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital Network in New Jersey estimated surgery to cost in the thousands.  It was then SHAHS was referred to the Ian Somerhalder Foundation through a friend. ISF granted an Emergency Medical Grant for Zeke to help alleviate the high cost of this surgery.

SHAHS contacted ISF about Zeke’s condition, “At the time of the grant application, Zeke was under consideration for Shunt Surgery to stabilize his hydrocephalus. Unfortunately, he developed problems relating to his Mega- esophagus concurrently with continual Rhinitis and Herpes flare-ups that necessitated surgery to be put on hold for quite some time as we battled to get this under control. We continued to keep the funds awarded through your grant in an account to be applied toward his shunt surgery.” Zeke endured a multitude of testing and diagnostics. He did have surgery to repair his Entropion, removal of the deformed claws, and was neutered. Additional tests confirmed Zeke also has PRAA, Persistent Right Aortic Arch, which is a heart defect. Miraculously, the PRAA tests indicated there have been no changes in Zeke’s brain MRI, indicating the hydrocephalus is stable and not progressing at this time. According to Lisa, “Zeke recuperated beautifully from his first round of surgeries. We are praying that he will do just as well after his heart surgery.” It is easy to see how Zeke affectionately became known as SHAHS’ “hot mess”. He is an extremely complicated cat with extremely complicated disorders which are constantly evolving. Due to the nature of Zeke’s disorders and medical support he will forever need, Zeke found a permanent home at SHAHS Sanctuary where he will receive not only the high level of specialized care he requires, but the love he deserves.

SHAHS has this to say about Zeke, “He was never told he was a special needs kitten. He considers himself no different than any other animal. He has the heart of a lion, spirit of a warrior, and the most incredible zest for life. Due to the Radial Agenesis, he walks on his elbows and hops like a rabbit but moves like a flash of lightning to keep up with the others. He’s a fighter.”

We at ISF want to extend our sincere thanks to all those who chose life for Zeke. Especially SHAHS for their commitment to provide Zeke with a loving home and specialized lifelong medical care. Zeke is alive today because others chose to take a chance on him which changed his life. No choice is more perfect or, in this case, pur-fect! 

Written by Theresa Blangiforti

Edited by Bob Stone