General News | Patient Stories

Mischievous Loki Makes Miraculous Recovery

[Loki before and after his illness]

Loki Before the Illness, During Recovery

Imagine you bring home a mixed-breed terrier puppy and his boundless energy immediately captures your heart. “He was very healthy, very active,” Miranda Karban says of the family pet, Loki. “Probably the most happy, excited dog you’ve ever seen.”

In fact, says Miranda, he earned his name—after the trickster god in Norse mythology—because he was pretty mischievous as a pup.

We built him a little homemade wheelchair because when he first started walking he could only move his front legs. But one night he was dreaming and started kicking his back legs like he was running. Then we knew he was doing a lot better.

Miranda Karban

However, by the summer of his third year Loki begins to exhibit some disturbing behavior, “as far as not being able to walk straight,” Miranda recalls. “At first it was almost kind of funny because he was walking like he was drunk, but within a few hours it was definitely a problem.

“By the next day, he couldn’t stand up at all. It was very scary.”

What would you do? Where would you turn?

‘Get to the U of I Right Away’

Miranda, an assistant professor of biology at Illinois College, and her husband, John, rushed Loki from their home in Jacksonville, Ill., to the veterinarian’s office. “They ran a ton of tests,” she says. “They thought he might have some sort of infection or tick-borne illness, but it wasn’t either of those.” Quickly, the Karbans sought a second opinion.

[Loki at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital]
When this photo was taken, during Loki’s stay at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, he was still blind and couldn’t lift his head yet, according to Miranda, his owner.
“They said we needed to get to the U of I right away,” Miranda says. “So we hopped in the car and drove there. By the time we got to the clinic, he was blind. He couldn’t see and he couldn’t stand. He couldn’t do anything.”

Thus began an intense, emotional weeklong stay for Loki at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital that saw him on life support—placed on a ventilator when he stopped breathing—and monitored around the clock in the hospital’s ICU.

It ended with an outcome that’s nothing short of miraculous.

‘A Very Small Chance’

“From what we could determine, when a dog goes on a ventilator there’s a very small chance he’ll come off it,” Miranda says. “But he made it. He’s a little slower than he used to be, but he’s back on his feet. He had very serious neurological problems, so this is a pretty amazing recovery.”

Dr. Devon Hague, the veterinary neurologist who spearheaded Loki’s hospital treatment, says the exact cause of his debilitating condition still has not been identified. “Our most likely cause is an autoimmune disease,” she suggests.

“Encephalitis, meningitis or a combination of both, meningoencephalitis, an inflammation of the brain or the surrounding tissue covering the brain. While we certainly see infectious diseases in dogs, we don’t see them as commonly as we see autoimmune diseases.”

The range of possible diagnoses increased the difficulty of Loki’s treatment, Dr. Hague adds. “We talked to the owners about this,” she says. “If we treated for an autoimmune disease and we’re right, not only would he be able to get better but we would also be able to wean him off the ventilator. However, if we were wrong, it actually could make him worse. In a case like this, you sometimes have to take big risks when you are dealing with animals that are that sick.”

The medical staff—and Loki—beat some incredible odds.

‘Getting Back to His Normal Self’

[Loki and family on vacation]
Now recovered from his medical ordeal, Loki recently enjoyed at trip to Georgia with John and Miranda.
“The first day we brought him home, he got his vision back,” Miranda Karban marvels, “and every day for about a week we saw major improvements. We built him a little homemade wheelchair because when he first started walking he could only move his front legs. But one night he was dreaming and started kicking his back legs like he was running. Then we knew he was doing a lot better.

“He’s on medication now that he’ll have to take for the rest of his life, and he’ll go back for follow-up visits, but he slowly seems to be getting back to his normal self,” Miranda says. “[Dr. Hague] and the veterinary students over there were wonderful. They just did a great job.”

Dr. Hague concludes, “We were cautiously optimistic with the owners, and of course it is possible he could relapse in the future, but we are continuing to monitor him closely and hopefully he will continue to do well, so we’re very excited.

“These owners are lovely people and were really great to work with. They certainly went above and beyond what a lot of owners would do for their pets. It’s great when we have the ability to achieve a good outcome.”

By Jim McFarlin