In 2016 Noel met Charlie and his six-year-old 40kg Rottweiler Cross, Lulu, who was so badly affected with spinal disease that she could no longer stand and had to be carried everywhere. The two share a very special bond: Lulu came to Charlie’s aid when he was attacked during a burglary and he will stop at nothing to help her in return. For 5 weeks prior to visiting Noel, Charlie has been sleeping downstairs with Lulu as she could not move. One night Lulu got up and licked Charlie’s face and that was the moment when Charlie believed there was hope for Lulu and that seeing Noel was their final chance.
The MRI imaging revealed the situation was worse than even Professor Noel Fitzpatrick had anticipated. On examining Lulu, Noel identified the cause of the degeneration of her spine as a genetically predisposed condition caused by an overgrowth of bone in Lulu’s neck called Osseous-Associated Wobbler syndrome (OAWS). The overgrowth of bone squashes the spinal cord and the nerves in the neck, resulting in poor transmission of nerve signals between the brain and the limbs, leaving Lulu unable to walk.
One of the options to treat Lulu was a ground-breaking surgery developed by Noel, cervical distraction fusion, which would alleviate the pressure in Lulu’s neck by removing two discs and spreading apart the compressing bone using two spacer implants. The three associated vertebrae would then be held rigidly using special custom-designed plates screwed onto the bone and rods to link them - whilst transplanted bone marrow would fuse them all together. The spacer device is called a FITS (Fitz Intervertebral Traction Screw) and the linkage system is called a CerFitz.
The surgery Lulu had was major and recovery is always unpredictable, some dogs recover very quickly and are able to walk almost immediately, others can take more time for the inflammation of spinal cord and nerves to reduce and to regain function again, whilst others may never recover depending on how badly the spinal cord has been damaged before intervention.
Fantastically, three days after surgery Noel took Lulu for a walk and was thrilled with her progress – a very rapid recovery considering the severity of her spinal cord compression and the significant surgical intervention needed. Lulu was able to go home to Charlie who was thrilled to have his best friend back to her old self with a new bionic spine.
Four years later, Lulu is an amazingly youthful eleven-year-old, enjoying her retirement at the heart of family life.