Dog with terminal cancer makes miracle recovery after £39k stem cell transplant from her mum

Serena and Andrew with Millie and Robert with Coco (Picture: Mercury Press)

Serena Gannon-Lodge and husband, Andrew, were devastated when they found out their six-year-old cocker spaniel Millie had cancer.

She was given just six months to live after the lymphoma diagnosis.

But to save her life, her owners flew her mum Coco to America, where the family had moved to from London, to harvest her stem cells and transplant them into Millie’s body.

Amazingly, the procedure worked and Millie is now officially in remission.

Serena said: ‘Millie means everything to us, we would do anything to save her and for her to be happy.

‘We had been in America for less than a year and we have been saving for a house so we had the money and could afford to do it.

‘We used our savings to pay for Millie’s treatment which we would do any day of the week to make sure she has the best chance to live.

Millie was kept in isolation for a week and was only allowed to be visited by two doctors while they waited for Coco’s stem cells to develop in her body (Picture: Serena Gannon-Lodge and Andrew Lodge /Mercury Press)

‘This whole five months has been an emotional rollercoaster from being really optimistic to really sad and worried and having to see her go through all of that – but she had to go through it to be here today.

‘It’s been very tough and emotionally draining but we were so happy to have her home for Christmas and she has been straight back to her normal self.

‘She has to have regular check-ups now to make sure the cancer is staying at bay, and we are just taking it day by day but we have our best friend back.’

Vet Serena met Millie’s mum Coco when she was a pregnant patient and after falling in love with her, she asked to be contacted if she had a girl.

When she did in August 2013, the animal lover didn’t hesitate to adopt Millie just weeks later and she and Andrew quickly fell in love.

When Serena got a new job in the US, the couple moved abroad with their beloved pet in August 2018.

Millie is almost back to fighting fit and has been her usual self enjoying walks (Picture: Serena Gannon-Lodge and Andrew Lodge/Mercury Press)

But in July this year, they noticed she had swollen glands – a sign of lymphoma.

Serena said: ‘Being a vet myself I see cancer in animals on a weekly basis and I knew that lymphoma was very responsive to chemotherapy.

‘As soon as we flew home we took her straight to a specialist and within a week she had started chemotherapy.

‘Without chemotherapy we were told she would live for just four to six weeks but even with chemotherapy she was given an average life expectancy of just six to nine months.’

The couple started looking at stem cell transplants, which although common in humans, it is very rare in animals.

They found the North Carolina State Veterinary Hospital – one of just three places in the world to perform these transplants on dogs.

But they needed to find a match for Millie and they decided to contact Coco’s owner Robert Alcock, 52, a catering manager.

Coco and Millie on a walk (Picture: Serena Gannon-Lodge and Andrew Lodge/Mercury Press)

When they discovered Coco was a match at odds of just 25%, Rober agreed to fly out immediately to help save the pup’s life.

Robert had a week-long trip last month to extract Coco’s healthy cells via injections and a apheresis machine, which separates the stem cells from the blood before injecting them into Millie,

The procedure which is technically referred to a bone marrow transplant despite not touching the patient’s bone marrow, has seen Coco become the first British dog in the world to donate stem cells in this way, with Millie only the 26th pooch globally to receive stem cells using this treatment with a matched donor.

Serena added: ‘We knew we had to do everything we could so we started researching stem cell transplants, as it was the only option that would give her back a normal life expectancy.

‘We contacted Robert and straight away he said he would get Coco tested and reach out to some of the other puppies from the litter.

‘When Coco came back as a full match we were overwhelmed and paid to fly them both over here as soon as they could.”

The whole project has cost in the region of £39,000 [$50,000 USD] with Millie’s chemo costing £9,100 [$12,000 USD], flights and relevant documents costing £6,100 [$8,000 USD] and the actual transplant costing £23,000 [$30,000 USD].

The couple are expecting the cost of the procedure to be reimbursed by their pet insurance leaving them to cover the rest with their own savings.

Robert flew 4,000 miles from his hometown to the hospital in North Carolina in November with Coco reuniting her with her daughter for the first time in six years.

Before boarding the nine-hour flight, Serena and Andrew had to pay £150 for Coco’s rabies jab and a pet passport so she could travel.

During their stay Coco received two injections for five days to stimulate the release of her stem cells from her bone marrow into her blood – before spending five hours on a dialysis machine to extract the healthy cells.

Once extracted, the harvested cells were given to Millie through an IV catheter – but not before two rounds of full body radiation to remove her own immune system so that her mum’s healthy cells could take over.

Serena and Andrew pick up Millie from the hospital after three weeks in hospital on her own (Picture: Serena Gannon-Lodge and Andrew Lodge /Mercury Press)

Waiting for the cells to do their magic, vulnerable Millie had to spend another three weeks in hospital with one week in complete isolation to protect her from the outside world while her immune system built itself back up.

Millie returned home on Friday 13th December fighting fit, just in time for the festivities, while Robert and Coco flew home at the end of November.

Now the pup’s cancer is in remission, but doctors won’t know for definite that she is completely cancer-free for another two years.

Robert said: ‘When Serena and Andrew asked me if I would get Coco tested and then fly out, I didn’t even hesitate to agree.

Robert, Serena and Andrew with Coco and Millie on a walk (Picture: Robert Alcock/Mercury Press)

‘I would do the same for Coco if she was in this situation. A dog is part of your family and you love them the way you love your children.

‘It only seemed right that I let Coco save her own daughter and I’m so happy to see Millie re-united with Serena and Andrew happy and healthy again.’

Andrew added: ‘I feel that Millie is Serena’s soulmate, the bond they have is so loving I can’t imagine the two of them being apart.

‘Both of us would do anything for Millie.’

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