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Cancer-stricken dog undergoes bone marrow transplant at N.C. State

Posted January 22, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— Maverick, a 6-year-old Weinmaraner diagnosed with leukemia, is undergoing a new type of bone marrow transplant this week at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Specialists diagnosed Maverick with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in November after a second tumor was found in his body.

“It was pretty devastating. He's been in pretty good health his whole life. He's always been active. When he was a puppy, we did hunt training,” said Maverick’s owner, Howard Altman, of Norwalk, Conn.

Cancer-stricken dog gets transplant at NCSU Cancer-stricken dog gets transplant at NCSU

Maverick started chemotherapy and went into clinical remission, according to doctors. Since November, he has continued chemotherapy and has remained in remission.

Nonetheless, doctors gave Maverick from weeks to months to live even if chemotherapy remained effective.

“He's too young to have a terminal illness where there is a zero to 2 percent chance of him surviving,” Altman said.

The dog’s only hope was undergoing a bone marrow transplant.

Finding a matching donor would be time-consuming and expensive. Doctors considered using one of Maverick’s littermates, but that would require DNA from his parents and all of his littermates. With the whereabouts of those dogs unknown, doctors decided to perform an autologous transplant in which Maverick’s stem cells would be harvested and then returned to him following a total body radiation.

Dr. Steven Suter, of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s Oncology Service, harvested Maverick’s stem cells during a six-hour procedure Thursday morning.

Late Thursday, Maverick was awake and alert, Altman said. Doctors say they believe the cells taken are healthy enough to perform the transplant.

On Friday, Maverick will undergo full body radiation before receiving the stem cells harvested the day before.

For two weeks following the procedure, Maverick will stay at the hospital’s semi-isolation ward.

The bone marrow transplant costs about $12,000 to $15,000, Altman said. Though Altman and his wife, Marna, have pet insurance, they say coverage limits have been reached. In total, Maverick's medical treatments have cost $25,000.

The N.C. State College of Veterinary Medicine is the first in the nation to offer the canine bone marrow transplant procedure. Maverick is the third dog to undergo it and the first with leukemia.

Dogs receiving the transplant increase their cure rate to 30 percent.

“There is still no guarantee that it will help, but at least it's the best we can do for him” Altman said.

The Altmans were inspired by N.C. State's Bone Marrow Transplant Program and have created a fund to help advance the program. The fund also helps owners who can't afford bone marrow and other cancer treatments for their dogs.


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  • cbarnett Jan 28, 2009

    So, think this makes you mad? $25,000 to SAVE a dog is nothing. How about $150,000 to CREATE a dog? What ya'll got to say about that?

  • cbarnett Jan 26, 2009

    If you want to talk about money for people in need, talk to Obama about bailing the PEOPLE out. While tens of thousands are losing their jobs, the car makers get billions. The people without jobs can't buy those cars. Get over it people. We'll spend OUR money on OUR dogs if we so choose. Good luck, Maverick!

  • NCSU2004 Jan 26, 2009

    Humans are incapable of giving the type of love that dogs give. If only we could be as forgiving and loving as they are. If I had the money I'd spend it on my dogs in a heartbeat.

  • cat976 Jan 23, 2009

    Deathrow, maybe you are right i love my pets alot more than most of the people i have met in my life.

  • iamyeary Jan 23, 2009

    My cat is 10 years old. Cat has always had a heart murmur (so says the vet). Vet wants me to pay over $ 200. for an ultra sound (for diagnosis only). I feel that if my cat seems perfectly healthy and is already 10 years old, then NO WAY am I going to spend money on diagnosis, let alone any type of medicine etc. (By the way, My Vet does not know that my daughter and I have no health insurance) I'm just venting here....I understand why others choose to keep pets alive at any cost.

  • zProt Jan 23, 2009

    This person is deranged. Ethically and morally how can you justify extreme measures saving a dog? I know people right now who are doing without such simple items as reading glasses because of our "wonderful" "best-in-the-world" health care system.

    You can invent miracles, but you can't buy human responsibility.

    I'd say no, this person does not have the right to waste that kind of money. Instead he should be placed in the state's mental institution.

  • wp Jan 23, 2009

    NCSU Vet Hospital is a wonderful place and we pet owners are lucky to have it so close to home. My chihuahua just had two surgeries on her left leg and everyone at NCSU has been wonderful!

  • haggis basher Jan 23, 2009

    "Before all you people get on your saopbox remember it is his dog and his money. He can do whatever he want's with his money!"
    Absolutely. Folks have a right to be as dumb as they like with their own money. It does say something about the owner and society in general that are willing to spend enough money to save and improve the lifes of dozens of needy children just to add a few years to the life of a dog.....and yes I have had pets and loved them but one should never mistake them for humans.

  • Nothing Finer Jan 23, 2009

    It's their own money and they have every right to do what they want with it. I just hope they're able to reach a point where they can recognize when it's time to let the dog go rather than prolong its agony.

  • lbzebulon Jan 23, 2009

    How stupid think of how many hungry families that money could have been used to feed.........