A Chesterton family’s beloved dog diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor has a new "leash" on life thanks to a Purdue University veterinary neurosurgeon and a research study by the University of Minnesota.
Peyton was a healthy, loving 8-year-old boxer when she suffered a seizure March 23. Her owners, Rob and Renee Henderson, described it as a facial seizure, or “a facial tic,” and didn’t think much of it until it happened again that same day.
The Hendersons immediately took Peyton to their local veterinarian where she experienced 30 more seizures lasting about 10 seconds each.
It was suggested to the Hendersons to get Peyton to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Purdue University right away because “there was definitely something neurological going on,” Rob Henderson said.
That was a Friday. Peyton was sedated and an MRI was performed. The Hendersons got the results on Monday. They drove back to Purdue because it was news they did not want to receive over the phone.
It was a Monday they’ll never forget.
“We were told our dog has a brain tumor and she’s got a month to live,” Rob said.
Peyton could be operated on but there was no guarantee of quality of life or how long she’d live.
“We decided not to put her through traumatic brain surgery if she’s only going to live three months,” Rob said.
The Hendersons had to go home while Peyton remained at Purdue.
“It was the hardest day of our lives,” Rob said. She’s such a close member of our family (that includes two sons). It was like getting hit by a truck. One day she’s playing with us, the next day she’s going to die in 30 days.”
On Tuesday they were still trying to figure out how to handle the last month of Peyton’s life when they got a call from Dr. Timothy Bentley, the veterinary neurosurgeon at Purdue who treated Peyton. Bentley told them about the canine brain tumor clinical trials program, a collaborative effort of the University of Minnesota’s Veterinary Medical Center and Masonic Cancer Center.
Peyton was an ideal candidate for a trial in which a sample of her glioma tumor would be used as a vaccine against it.
“The surgery itself would have been kind of pointless,” Bentley said. “The tumor would have just come back without the University of Minnesota providing the vaccine.”
The other good news for the Hendersons was that the more than $10,000 surgery and following chemotherapy would come at no cost to them.
“It was truly a miracle,” Rob said. “Not only to have the cost of the operation covered but the science of what they’re doing.”
Bentley said the point of the brain tumor treatments is to help dogs but more so to develop new brain tumor treatments for people with gliomas and other brain tumors.
Bentley and Dr. Aaron Cohen-Gadol, a neurosurgeon for human patients, performed the surgery together to remove Peyton’s tumor the day after Easter at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
The only complication of surgery was Peyton suffering a stroke which caused her to lose vision in her right eye.
“We’re not optimistic about there being a big improvement in that eye,” Bentley said. “You would struggle to know there was a problem with her unless you were a veterinary neurologist. She has vision on her left and in front of her but she doesn’t have very good vision on her right. But she copes with it very well.”
Peyton is receiving anti-tumor vaccines and chemotherapy from the research program. There are six vaccines and three short rounds (five days each) of outpatient chemotherapy, Bentley said.
Rob said she’s recovering a little better every day.
“She’s getting her personality back,” he said. “We had to teach her how to walk again, how to drink, how to lie down. It’s like a human who had a stroke. They have to re-learn how to do everything. She still leads a very happy life. She’s still active. She loves her walks. And she could live the rest of her life hopefully healthy.”
Bentley has seen Peyton quite a few times after the surgery to give her some of the vaccines. He said she’s “basically a complete success” with no more seizures.
“What’s happening for her isn’t about extending her life even if she’s suffering, sick or in pain,” he said “She has a great quality of life. She plays with her toys; she goes for long walks and plays with her family."
Bentley said they don’t know how long the treatments will keep tumor under control or what the chances are that it will come back until the study is finished. The details of whether a patient like Peyton will have a short-term cure versus a long period of remission versus a complete cure are the details that are being studied.
“So far she’s definitely doing very well,” Bentley said. “Peyton is a really sweet dog. She’s a great patient. She has lots of friends at the hospital.”
The Hendersons said Peyton is resilient and strong-willed, and much loved in the family.
“We feel very blessed she has this opportunity,” Renee said.