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JP Grace: Cleo survives seizures, may be on right path

May. 13, 2013 @ 10:40 PM

"For kitty heaven's sake, keep at it until you get the diagnosis right!" If our poor beleaguered cat Cleo, age nine, could talk, the above is likely what she would have said to us, her "mom and dad."

We got Cleo when she was about 30 months into this world. We were visiting friends Jim and Bobbie Littlefield in Blacksburg, Va., right on the heels of losing our much beloved grey cream, Max, to a brain infection at the tender age of 10.

The Littlefields were then verging on moving into a "co-housing community" with regs that admonished newcomers to arrive with "no more than one cat." Our friends happened to have two, Cleo and her offspring, Renard.

"Here," said Bobbie, practically as we were gathering our things to head home to Huntington, "please take Cleo." She said this holding her beautiful black and white "tuxedo" feline out to us.

Paula, my wife, was hesitant. Yes, we wanted another cat ... but so soon? We were both still mourning the painful demise of Max. And was Cleo "the right cat" for us?

Jim Littlefield had gotten on Cleo's wrong side by holding her squeezed between two knees while he perused the newspaper. "No, no, no ... do not 'hold' me that way!" Cleo indicated via her subsequent avoidance of Jim and his pincer knees. Renard put up with rougher handling.

Thus, Bobbie figured, the cat to ship out was Cleo.

I must have pushed Paula to accept the offer of Cleo. I'm a "we can make this work" kind of guy.

We enjoyed perhaps two serendipity years with Cleo, a very sweet cat, before she threw her first king-size seizure. Bad news! She spun around the house wildly crashing into furniture, hurting herself and behaving like the proverbial bat out of hell.

A late-night dash to the pet emergency room got Cleo on intravenous fluids dosed with phenobarbital and diazepam as calmants. The bill was not so calming -- well into three figures.

Come daylight our regular vet took over. The working diagnosis became "epilepsy."

Cleo went on a steady regimen of phenobarbital and diazepam, both in tablet form, crushed up fine and mixed with her food. Twice a day.

Quite recently we took Cleo along with our other cat, Punkin, and our dog Cooper with us up to my mother-in-law's wake and funeral in Chicago. Cleo had been seizure-free for over a year, but our first night in Chicago she threw a series of whoppers. We had a prescription for an extra diazepam booster via rectal injection faxed up from our regular vet to a Chicago vet, and got Cleo calmed down.

Back one day in Huntington after the trip, however, Cleo threw yet another serious seizure and grew weak and at times, it seemed, was almost comatose. Paula, still back in Chicago, and yours truly in Huntington began to discuss putting her to sleep. Horrors, right?

With one last trip to our vet, thinking euthanasia all the way, we happened upon Dr. Rickey E. Millen. He had never before been the duty vet to examine Cleo. But after checking her blood work he came and told us: "I think I know what's causing Cleo's seizures -- and it isn't epilepsy."

He named a rare condition -- polycythemia vera -- for which the treatment is reducing the red blood cell count because those cells, when too high, can cause seizures. We hope to confirm this diagnosis through further testing, but Cleo is now being restored, is eating again, and we hope, will soon be far less prone to seizures. Thank you, God!

Cat (and dog) lovers John Patrick and Paula Grace live in eastern Cabell County.

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