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Blood donor makes new best friend

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Lexi has just made a new friend.


The happy-go-lucky black lab has discovered Winx, a Shih Tzu mix only a fraction of her size. Lexi sniffs her new acquaintance and licks his face. The two canines seem to have hit it off.
And they don’t even know that Lexi saved Winx’s life.


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 Rick Glaser was doing his mail route on Logan Avenue — a block away from Winks Street — one morning seven years ago when he came across a neglected, disheveled dog.


After a week passed and no one had claimed the five-year-old mutt, Glaser and his wife Heather adopted him and brought the newly named Winx to their Riverview home.


Winx’s right eye had to be removed, but otherwise, after a much-needed haircut and bath, he was a happy, healthy dog.


That was until the first week of March, when his urine turned extremely yellow and he stopped eating.


"He usually has a healthy appetite," Rick said. "He was also weak and lethargic. It was obvious he was sick."


Winks was soon diagnosed with autoimmune hemolytic anemia, a condition which caused his immune system to attack his own red blood cells.


"It was close to a crisis," Heather said. "There was no oxygen going to his organs."


The veterinarian prescribed prednisone, which would suppress Winx’s immune system and hopefully cause it to stop killing the blood cells.


The problem would be waiting for the drug to kick in. A blood transfusion would be needed to buy time.


Winx received transfusions on March 8 and 9, and both times didn’t show improvement after an initial spike in his vital signs. The Glasers decided to try one more time on the 10th.


"The third time, it was, ‘We’re going to give you this so you can come home for the night,’" Heather said. "We had made arrangements for the doctor to come over to put him to sleep (the next day.)"


But the next day, the 12-year-old Winx showed signs of improvement, and continued to get better and better. The drugs had finally started to work. A month later, his prednisone doses had been reduced to a quarter of what they were, and he may soon be off the drug completely.


"Without the transfusions there wouldn’t have been time for him," Rick said.


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All three of the transfusions Winx received came from the Canadian Animal Blood Bank, a non-profit organization based at Red River College for the last 15 years. One unit of blood came from a German shepherd cross in Brandon, another came from a golden retriever cross in St. Vital, and the third came from Lexi, who lives in Stonewall.


Wayne Spittal, Lexi’s owner, once had a dog named Rocky who contracted the same disease as Winx. Even with two transfusions, Rocky didn’t make it.


Years later, when the Spittals adopted larger dogs — donors must weigh at least 23 kilograms — they decided to give back by having them donate.


Daisy, a lab cross, has given 10 times, and purebred Lexi’s first donation is now inside Winx.
"It’s just fantastic," Spittal said, shaking his head, as the two dogs got acquainted on the floor beneath him. "We’re so proud of her."


"Thank you, sir," Rick Glaser said.


"I just wish more people would bring dogs in to give blood," Spittal said. "Who knows… one day your best friend might need blood."


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The CABB has accepted 548 blood donations in the first 10 months of its current fiscal year. Another 201 came from a satellite collection site at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton.


That’s up from the previous year, but it’s never enough for lab director Beth Knight, who’s hoping a potential collection site in Toronto gets off the ground in the near future.


"I’m always looking for more blood, and more donors, too," said the East Kildonan resident. "We’re looking for dogs with good, healthy immune systems."


Blood from the CABB is shipped express to all corners of the country from Knight’s lab. Tests at Queen’s University have shown that blood from the CABB is of much higher quality than that from commercial suppliers in the U.S., which keep colonies of dogs.


Even though clinics are held weekly, there are rarely more than a handful of units being stored in the basement at Red River’s Notre Dame campus. Demand is simply too high.


Dogs can donate every three months. It rarely takes more than three minutes to collect 450 millilitres of blood.


"Our owners are an eclectic group," Knight said. "Kids ask their parents to sign their pets up.

We have some senior owners who have come in while doing chemo. We also have a lot of stay-at-home moms and empty nesters."


Upon a second donation, dogs receive a free microchip. Every fifth donation earns a different coloured tag, from bronze (five) up to gold with a diamond-like gem (30).


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On this day in mid-April, Willow, a three-year-old Rottweiler-shepherd cross from Elie, is set to receive her bronze tag at a blood clinic at Red River College.


The energetic 33-kilogram pooch, tongue hanging out, is lifted onto a table by owner Chantelle LaRose, a graduate of the college’s animal health technology program.


Dr. Maitland Sundmark, a retired vet who does this as a volunteer, shaves an area of Willow’s neck as the dog lies on its side, held by two people.


Sundmark puts a needle in Willow’s jugular, and the dog calmly gives almost half a litre of blood without any fuss.


"She’s a really excitable dog," LaRose says. "But when she lays down on the table, she knows it’s her job to lie still."


Once it’s over, Willow gives the doctor a big, wet lick on the face. She doesn’t know it, but she may have just saved a life.

avi.saper@canstarnews.com

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