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Saving Alexa’s Sight: A Love Story

By: Stephen Sawicki

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Joanne Anderson, 65, has an easy touch when it comes to animals. When her daughter was young, she used to bring home one wayward pet after another - dogs, cats, you name it. Time and again, she would get on the telephone and start calling around, contacting everyone she could imagine, in order to find each creature a home. And when someone finally caved in and said they would at least look at the animal, Joanne set to work, bathing and scrubbing and fluffing the pets to make them look appealing for their would-be owners. "I found a home for all those strays," she proudly says.

Alexa is Rescued

Knowing that bit of history, it's easy to understand why nearly seven years ago Joanne's heart melted when her adult son Rick came home with a shar-pei he'd obtained from someone who rescues dogs of this breed. A puppy at the time, Alexa was a dog no one wanted. Among other problems, she was practically blind from an eyelid defect. "We knew it could be corrected, though," Joanne explains, "and it was corrected - for a while." A veterinarian had repaired the problem and for several years everything seemed fine.

Then, about two years ago, Joanne noticed what she describes as a "blue film" in Alexa's right eye and, figuring it was an infection, brought her to Noelle McNabb, a veterinary ophthalmologist at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston.

Alexa Needs Delicate Surgery

The diagnosis was heartbreaking: Alexa was blind in her right eye. She had advanced glaucoma, which involves increased pressure within the eye and a lens instability problem. "I took her to surgery and removed the right eye because it was in terrible condition," McNabb recalls. "And with the left eye, I removed the lens and we began treating her medically for glaucoma."

This was a dog that had been well on her way to utter blindness. But with Joanne and her son providing close monitoring and treatment at home - drops of various medications four times daily as well as a pill a day - and periodic checkups by McNabb, month after month has passed and Alexa continues to see.

Prognosis is Good

Joanne thanks McNabb for saving the day, but the ophthalmologist says plenty of credit goes to the owner, too. Joanne is constantly on the lookout for signs of eye irritation, squinting, discoloration or discharge. The minute a problem arises, Joanne is on the phone to the doctor and is poised to bring Alexa right in for treatment. "She has really been equally responsible in preserving this dog's sight," McNabb says.

Ask Joanne to discuss this, however, and she responds as if it should be obvious she'd do this for Alexa – just as no explanation was necessary when she used to find homes for every lost pet who came her way. "Well," Joanne says of Alexa, "she's my baby."

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