Gabriel the service dog fighting to get back home to his disabled veteran owner

Jake Murphy says Gabriel is ‘a great friend.’ ANDREW CUNNINGHAM • TUFTS UNIVERSITY

Jake Murphy says Gabriel is ‘a great friend.’ ANDREW CUNNINGHAM • TUFTS UNIVERSITY

Gabriel the German shepherd has a fighting spirit just like that of the soldiers he was born to serve.

His kidneys are diseased, threatening his life. But it was his heart that captivated the staff of North Country Animal Health Center, 16760 state Route 3, Watertown, when he was brought in by his concerned out-of-state owners in May.

Now, Gabriel is battling to recover at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Boston. A drive has been started to fund his expensive kidney treatment so he can return to his master in Texas, retired Army 1st Lt. Jake Murphy, a former Fort Drum soldier who lost his legs while fighting for his country in Afghanistan.

“Everybody at our clinic has been touched to see these two come in and to know how much they’ve gone through and what this dog really means,” said Dr. Shannon M. Vicario at the Animal Health Center. “It’s been very difficult.”

“The unconditional love of a dog is incredible,” said Lisa M. (Morgan) Murphy, Jake’s wife and a 2004 graduate of Sackets Harbor Central School. “They bonded really quickly.”

Gabriel was born three years ago at 4 Paws for Ability, a nonprofit organization in Ohio whose mission is to place service dogs with veterans who have lost use of their limbs or hearing and with disabled children.

Gabriel was in training to be placed with another Fort Drum soldier, Sgt. Derek T. McConnell of New Jersey. He died on March 18, 2013, at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., 20 months after suffering injuries in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when he stepped on an improvised explosive device that threw him onto a second IED.

Karen A. Shirk, 4 Paws founder, then began looking for another soldier for Gabriel to serve. Mrs. Murphy heard about 4 Paws through the Maryland-based Yellow Ribbon Fund, dedicated to helping injured soldiers with the recovery process, and contacted Ms. Shirk.

When Ms. Shirk talked to Lt. Murphy, she discovered that he and Sgt. McConnell had served in the same unit and were injured on the same July day in 2011, but at different times. Sgt. McConnell was injured only hours after assisting with Lt. Murphy’s medical evacuation. Lt. Murphy also was a victim of an IED.

The pair had done physical therapy together at Walter Reed. Gabriel, coincidentally, had become a special bond.

Mr. Murphy, a native of Wellesley, Mass., left the service several months after being wounded and moved to Flower Mound, Texas, with his wife after accepting a job at Verizon in Houston. He received Gabriel about a year ago. He said the dog has helped him physically and emotionally.

“He’s a great animal, has a great personality and is a great friend,” he said. “He was always willing to help me out whenever I needed it.”

It’s a relationship that hasn’t been the same since Mr. and Mrs. Murphy took a vacation in May to visit his family in Massachusetts and her family in Sackets Harbor.

the diagnosis

While the couple was in Massachusetts and preparing to drive to New York state, they noticed that Gabriel didn’t seem to be feeling right.

“He started throwing up and wasn’t eating much,” Mrs. Murphy said.

They took him to a clinic in Massachusetts, near Mr. Murphy’s hometown, where tests were done. One was for leptospirosis, an infection caused by the leptospira bacteria, which Gabriel had been vaccinated against.

After the tests, the Murphys, with Gabriel, drove to Sackets Harbor to visit Lisa’s mom, Donna Finch. They had made an appointment at North Country Animal Health Center.

The center’s staff knew Gabriel. He had come in during the summer of 2013 in high spirits for a routine checkup. Everything checked out fine then.

“Gabriel is a very nice shepherd,” Dr. Vicario said.

But when he arrived at the center on May 14, it was a different situation. He was a patient at the center for five days, during which the positive test results came back. Gabriel had leptospirosis. The bacteria was attacking his kidneys and shutting them down.

“His values were slowly getting worse,” said Dr. Vicario. “Nothing was getting better.”

Despite his sickness, Gabriel showed strength and loyalty to his owners and the center’s staff, Dr. Vicario said.

“He was very interested in going for walks, and wanting to play with his tennis ball,” she said.

But as Gabriel’s kidney function declined further, there was nothing more they could do.

“We all still get a little teary-eyed thinking about it,” Dr. Vicario said. “I had a hard time. I was relieved when they decided to go to Tufts. If I would have been faced with euthanizing that dog myself, that would have been very difficult to do.”

The Murphys informed Ms. Shirk about Gabriel’s condition. She said Gabriel’s leptospirosis was a form not covered by his vaccination for the bacteria, which is a common situation. The vaccine does not cover all strains of the disease.

Dr. Vicario said the disease is carried by a bacteria carried by wild animals like deer, raccoons and rats.

“They spread it in their urine that can end up in the water,” Dr. Vicario said. “So, if your dog swims in the lake or drinks out of any puddles, streams or whatever, they can be exposed to this bacteria.”

Ms. Shirk said she and the Murphys did some research and found that Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University has a high success rate in treating Gabriel’s type of leptospirosis, which typically is fatal.

The treatment at Tufts involves kidney hemodialysis, in which a machine takes over the function of the kidneys and cleans the animal’s blood by circulating it through the machine.

“Unfortunately, it’s extremely expensive,” Ms. Shirk said. “I told Lisa, ‘Don’t worry about the funds. We’ll find the money. Take him to the best hospital. Give him a chance. If you don’t, he’s going to die.”

When Gabriel arrived at Tufts on May 19, his creatine (a chemical waste molecule) level was 17. The level for a healthy dog is 1.

The cost of hemodialysis is $1,500 a day. To cover it, Ms. Shirk and 4 Paws for Ability launched a “Help Save Gabriel” campaign on crowd-funding site Razoo. On May 19, the day the drive began, $20,000 was raised before midnight. As of Wednesday, $31,700 had been raised toward the goal of $45,000.

After Gabriel was admitted to Tufts, the Murphys stayed in Wellesley, about 50 miles away. They visited Gabriel daily. Mr. Murphy was able to stay for 3½ weeks, while Mrs. Murphy stayed for just over a month.

“For both of us, it was very difficult to leave and come back to a house without Gabriel,” said Mrs. Murphy, who is pregnant with a baby boy, who is scheduled to join the household in late summer.

Gabriel’s condition has improved from his dire original prognosis.

“Right when we were talking about having to make some hard decisions, all of a sudden, he started eating and his demeanor changed,” Ms. Shirk said.

She said that leptospirosis damages kidneys, but they could still potentially function with some damage.

“With leptospirosis, the kidneys go into failure, but they are not necessarily permanently damaged,” Ms. Shirk said. “So if you can take over with dialysis, and give the body time to heal, the kidney can often rebound.”

“An antibiotic will kill the bacteria, but the question is: Can you reverse the damage that’s been done to the kidney?” Dr. Vicario said. “That’s still sort of unknown.”

“Gabriel is fighting like there’s no tomorrow,” Ms. Shirk said. “And at this point, we’re not ready to stop. We are continuing to raise funds for treatment until we know that he’s better and can go back to Texas, or he’s not going to be able to ever come off of dialysis. That’s where we are right now. All we know is that Gabriel has turned a corner and Gabriel is fighting.”

A trip and hope

A little over a week ago, Gabriel was taken off dialysis for a few days. With his creatine level around 2.5, he spent some overnights at Mr. Murphy’s parents’ house in Wellesley.

“He’s eating, which is good,” Mrs. Murphy said. “But his kidneys are not where they need to be.”

She said the trips to Mr. Murphy’s parents’ home last week were an exercise in how Gabriel would do as an outpatient.

“Our goal, if all goes well, is to try to get him back to Texas next week and continue outpatient care here,” Mrs. Murphy said Wednesday. “Once he gets back here, we’re going to try to maintain his fluids with injections a couple times a day and see how he does with that.”

She holds out hope Gabriel’s kidneys will be able to work enough for him to survive on his own.

“At this point, we’re not really sure what his future looks like, but we want to give him as long and as good of a life as possible,” Mrs. Murphy said.

Gabriel is special to her because of the difference she has seen him make in her husband’s life.

“When we got Gabriel, it was such a crucial time of transitioning out of the military,” she said. “Jake was saying goodbye to a chapter of his life that he didn’t really say goodbye to on his own terms. He could have stayed in.”

But Mrs. Murphy said she and her husband decided it was time to move on to the civilian world.

“I think Gabriel helped him with that transition,” she said. “It gave him a focus, and just to have emotional support. … I don’t know for sure what it would have been like without Gabriel, but I think it made that transition a positive one.”

Ms. Shirk, who last year was named a CNN Hero for her work, said she has seen her share of heartbreak and diseases related to dogs. But she said it will be especially heartbreaking for her if Gabriel doesn’t pull through and go home to Texas.

“Normally, I can say, ‘Well, OK — You know, things happen and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ But in this case, it’s just not right,” she said, her voice breaking. “I just can’t wrap my head around it. This man already lost so much … I caught that dog when he was born. I handed him to that man, and to have Gabriel only work for him for a year … it’s just not right.”

Mrs. Murphy said she and her husband will know better after this weekend about Gabriel’s future. If things look good, the plan is for her husband to fly to Massachusetts and fly back home to Texas with Gabriel. On Wednesday, she said Gabriel would have at least one more dialysis treatment at Tufts.

Gabriel appears on the right track to get him and his fighting spirit back to Texas. But sometimes, a good fight isn’t good enough. Hopeful plans can crumble. Mr. Murphy was asked about the possibility of a future without Gabriel.

“I’m optimistic it will all work out, but at the same time, I’ll accept that it may not,” he said.

He realizes that sometimes, sadly, not all can make it home.

“Just like in war,” he said.

 

How to help Gabriel:

An online fund drive has been created by 4 Paws for Ability to assist in Gabriel’s treatment at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. The drive is through Razoo, a crowd-funding website for nonprofits.

TO DONATE: Visit http://wdt.me/LUZ8h2 or mail donations for Gabriel’s treatment to 4 Paws for Ability, 253 Dayton Ave., Xenia, OH 45385

MORE INFORMATION: 4pawsforability.org

By Chris Brock, Times Staff Writer

 

A survivor’s marathon

North country woman beats stroke to run historic Boston race [Read more...]

Lowville teacher and coach opens bicycle repair, art shop

Cycle Therapy owner Jacob K. Steria shows a desk clock he built from recycled bicycle parts in the workshop in the basement at his Sharp Street home in Lowville. Steve Virkler / Johnson Newspapers

Cycle Therapy owner Jacob K. Steria shows a desk clock he built from recycled bicycle parts in the workshop in the basement at his Sharp Street home in Lowville. Steve Virkler / Johnson Newspapers

An elementary teacher and coach is now peddling his skills in bicycle repair and art.

“I’ve always been kind of a tinkerer,” said Jacob K. Steria, owner of Cycle Therapy, 7661 Sharp St. “I enjoy it.” [Read more...]

What’s hot, what’s not in 2014

Michelle Graham

Michelle Graham

American College of Sports Medicine releases Top 10 list [Read more...]

Local stroke survivor finishes Boston Marathon!

Congratulations to Crystal Cockayne! Official finishing time of the Boston Marathon: 3:49:17

Read her amazing survival story here: http://www.watertowndailytimes.com/article/20140421/NEWS03/704209760

And follow-up on this amazing young woman in the upcoming issue of NNY Living, hitting the stands May 18.

On the long path to become a ‘Better U’

Chelsea A. Bango walks  on the treadmill at her Watertown apartment complex. Ms. Bango has recently become involved with 5k races as a result of her participation in the 12-week American Heart Association north country BetterU campaign. Amanda Morrison / NNY Living

Chelsea A. Bango walks
on the treadmill at her Watertown apartment complex. Ms. Bango has recently become involved with 5k races as a result of her participation in the 12-week American Heart Association north country BetterU campaign. Amanda Morrison / NNY Living

North country women commit to heart health, see results [Read more...]

On a path to a ‘BetterU’: North country women commit to healthy lifestyle challenge

Participants in the North Country BetterU campaign from left: Patricia Howell, Angela Alpaugh, Deborah Biondolillo, Debra Farmer, Patricia Hovorka, Shawna Rich, Laurie Donohue, Chelsea Bango, JoEllen Heukrath, Michelle Swike and Krista Kittle. Photo courtesy American Heart Association

Participants in the North Country BetterU campaign from left: Patricia Howell, Angela Alpaugh, Deborah Biondolillo, Debra Farmer, Patricia Hovorka, Shawna Rich, Laurie Donohue, Chelsea Bango, JoEllen Heukrath, Michelle Swike and Krista Kittle. Photo courtesy American Heart Association

Eleven north country women have committed to making healthy lifestyle changes and improving hearth health through the American Heart Association’s north country BetterU campaign, which commenced on Sept. 20 and runs through Dec. 17, with the participants sharing their success stories at the annual North Country Heart Walk Kick-Off in January.

The participants, who range in age from 25 to 60, were chosen from a pool of nearly 50 applicants this summer by a panel that included personnel from the American Heart Association, Samaritan Medical Center and the YMCA, according to Kristy Smorol, AHA communications director. The panel took into account factors including applicants’ goals, background, heart disease risk and personal motivation, she said.

Samaritan and the YMCA are sponsors of the event, along with media sponsors WWNY-TV, Froggy 97 and the Watertown Daily Times. [Read more...]

Healthy change takes a village: Together, rural communities can combat alarming obesity rate

Michelle Graham

Michelle Graham

I recently became part of a coalition of individuals trying to make a difference in the health of children in our communities. The first meeting was an eye-opening experience. We reviewed the rate of overweight and obese children in our area, statistics that continue to be alarming.

The coalition brainstorms areas of weakness and tries to devise plans to get into these communities and bring support and resources to improve the health of their children and families. Nationally, on average, one in three children are either overweight or obese. In some of our rural communities, the rate is actually close to one in two. I find these statistics heart-breaking, but I believe we can help on a local level.

It’s true that getting our communities healthy takes a village. When we pull all of our resources together, incredible things really can happen. No one has all the answers. That is why collaborating and using all of our resources can truly put you and your children on the path to better health. [Read more...]

Exercise key for cancer patients: Improved mood, reduced fatigue, lower risk among benefits

Michelle Graham

More individuals than ever are seeking healthy lifestyle programs. Cancer patients and survivors are a very interesting and complex population seeking to maintain good health. Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of working with many individuals who were either fighting cancer or fighting to stay cancer free.

A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, frightening and downright depressing. Fear of the unknown during a cancer diagnosis looms heavily. But there can be hope during this time of crisis. Exercise can be key in the treatment of cancer on many levels. A person’s social, physical and mental well-being can each be treated and embraced through a good exercise program during and after a cancer diagnosis.

The fact that exercise and proper eating can prevent certain cancers is well documented. According to Dr. Kerry Courneya, a cancer researcher at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, recent studies show that higher levels of physical activity are associated with a reduced risk of recurrence of some cancers. This is great news for those diagnosed and affirms that it is never too late to get started on a good, well-rounded program tailored to your needs. [Read more...]

Motivation: how to find and keep it

Michelle Graham

Path to a healthier, fitter version of yourself takes patience

What is your motivator for good health and better fitness? Is it your family, an upcoming athletic event or your doctor who just informed you that you’re at an increased risk for a specific disease? No matter what your reason, getting and staying motivated with regard to a better fitness plan and health can certainly seem overwhelming and daunting. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines motivation as a force or influence that causes someone to do something. The question is: What are you going to do and how will you get to your healthy destination? [Read more...]