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The Cost of Keeping Lilly Alive – Severe Adverse Vaccine Reaction

As I begin budgeting for 2013, let’s look at just how much it has cost to keep Lilly alive following the onset of vaccine-induced meningoencephalomyelitis (inflammation of the brain, lining of the brain, and spinal cord).

To recap … My perfectly healthy, brilliant, strong border collie girl received a rabies vaccine January 23, 2012, and she hasn’t been the same since. It hasn’t been cheap trying to save her. Before her massive relapse in August 2012 (after our 4th attempt to wean her off steroids), Lilly’s prognosis was good. Afterwards, her true prognosis became unknown. We just don’t know how this is going to turn out or how long it may go on.

Soon, I’ll update the 5-part adverse vaccine reaction FAQ we posted last year, when I believed everything was going to be OK, but I thought you’d like to see the total costs (so far) of this medical emergency.

The TRUTH is this … I never expected to run up such a bill. $5,000 or even $8,000? Sure, but more than $17,000?

I’ll be honest. It sort of snuck up on me. 

Please keep in mind that I am NOT a wealthy person.

While I did have a good year in 2012 work-wise, I don’t make scads of money. Being a self-employed / freelance writer isn’t easy ~ buying health insurance on the open market, no paid vacations or sick days, no fringe benefits on another’s dime, publishers waiting months (if ever) to pay me.

There have been years when I didn’t make much more than what Lilly’s veterinary care has cost.

And, I’m not anti-taxes, but let me say that I do lose 30-40% of my income to both income and self-employment taxes.

best dog blog, champion of my heartIn a normal year, the cost of saving Lilly in 2012 would represent 39% of my gross income.

However, I worked my @$$ off (and was very lucky) and made 31% more in 2012 than I did in 2011 … which is pretty amazing when you consider the time I spend taking care of Lilly, visiting my terminally ill mom, and dealing with the death of Tom’s mom in 2012.

So, Lilly’s care totaled 28% of my gross income in 2012. When you suck off money for taxes and overhead and you take into account Lilly’s veterinary bills, it’s no wonder I feel like I’m falling behind financially … even though it was a good year.

I’ll do another post soon on all the ways we’re making this possible and what sacrifices we’ve made in our daily lives since our lifestyle means a budget already cut to the bone.

Nonetheless, I’m grateful and blessed that it was a good year. Otherwise, there is NO WAY I could have done what we’ve done for Lilly. Well, we probably would have done it anyway, but my credit cards would be maxed out, and I would be flat broke.

This very second (since I just paid my credit card bill) I’m starting the year with a clean slate veterinary debt-wise.

The Cost of Keeping Lilly Alive – Severe Adverse Vaccine Reaction

  • 2012 Total Costs of Saving Lilly ~ $17,454.48
  • Pet Insurance Reimbursement (maxed out for life on anything related to this illness) ~ $3,000
  • Financial Help from Blog Readers / Family / Friends (chip-in) ~ $4,630
  • Surprise Help from friends / fellow bloggers (in late 2012) ~ $1,700

If you want to look in detail at the various line-item costs, I believe you can download a spreadsheet file I created. For your amusement, I’ll share that the pet insurance reimbursement covered maybe Lilly’s first day in the hospital.

This grand year-end total does NOT include …

  • Cleaning supplies to deal with Lilly’s total incontinence
  • Costs of replacing the washing machine, clothes dryer, and well pressure pump — all of which died from the onslaught of Lilly laundry
  • Gas costs for driving Lilly to and from the specialty hospital — an hour each way (sometimes as many as 9 appointments per month)

How We Spent YOUR Money

  • The first chip-in from spring 2012 helped me pay off Lilly’s first week-long hospitalization.
  • The second chip-in in fall 2012 helped me pay for Lilly’s second week-long hospitalization and the beginning of her chemo injections.
  • The new / surprise money will help me pay for Lilly’s chemo and medications for the next few months.

One large gift ($1,000) came by mail from a friend and benefactor, whom I will let claim the GOOD DEED if she chooses. At first, we tried to decline the generous offer as just too, too, too much to accept, but after discussions on motivations and intent, we agreed to accept it.

Then, over the holidays Jodi from Heart Like a Dog contacted me privately to say that she’d hosted a fundraiser and that her readers decided to split the money between me and Lilly and Lauren and Desmond from Life With Desmond, who were displaced by Hurricane Sandy amid their own veterinary crisis.

With everything going on here and our blogging hiatus, I had NO IDEA our dog blog friends were working hard on our behalf. 

Then, Lauren doubled the blessing by saying she wanted ALL of the money to go to me and Lilly. Take a minute to absorb that. Someone else in NEED decided Lilly needed it more.

Already humbled and weepy, I pretty much fell apart when I heard the news and received another online money transfer.

So, kids, that’s where things stand. I’ve roughed out a cost estimate for 2013 — assuming Lilly survives — and it looks like we’re facing another $7,500 for exams, chemo, blood work, and medicine at minimum this year. Except, as I type that, I realize that I forgot to include the acupuncture we hope to try soon.

I went ahead and let the chip-in expire at the end of the year for a couple reasons:

  • Chip-in offers ZERO customer / technical support. They don’t accept or reply to emails or calls for help, and their FAQ pages generate error messages.
  • Paypal is reporting these gifts as income to the IRS because I had more than 200 transactions in the year.

In addition to money for Lilly, I also raised money to help pay for a friend’s dog’s care. Because most of the donations were for modest amounts, I’m sure my CPA can help me figure things out with the gift rules and such, but it’s still a hassle. In general, I plan NOT to use Paypal much at all in the future … for anything.

So, I’m not sure if I will ask for help again or how.

Either way, Tom, Lilly, and I CANNOT THANK YOU ENOUGH for your love, support, and financial help. 

There is a little heart still beating next to mine … and without all of you, that might not be the case. 


Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Jana Rade - January 16, 2013

If somebody told us we had to spend $65,000 on Jasmine’s vet care, we would probably drop dead from shock.

But it starts innocently. A diagnostic here, a diagnostic here. Surgery. Then another. Then an emergency. Then another …
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    Roxanne Hawn - January 17, 2013

    Exactly, Jana. You start, with no idea it’s going to snowball like this. I’m starting to feel a bit like a fool. And, yet, here is my girl … happy as can be. Not 100%, of course, but doing pretty darn well.

Jane Boursaw - January 9, 2013

During my husband’s health crises and issues over the past decade, we’ve been on the receiving end of some very, very heartwarming and generous donations. I know what it’s like to be floored by the kindness of people – not always friends and family either, sometimes it’s strangers who see a need and want to give.

The money is a life-saver, but the humbling good feeling and healing emotional karma we’ve gotten by their good deeds is indeed priceless. And people *want to give. It makes them feel useful when they otherwise might not be able to do anything. It lifts everyone up – both the giver and the receiver in a world that can be sad and desperate.
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    Roxanne Hawn - January 10, 2013

    That’s absolutely right, Jane. At first, truly, I turned down the big check, but then I promised to hold on to it for a week or so and see how I felt. During that time (over the holidays), I saw a woman who in all honesty looked homeless at the grocery store. She was buying just a couple of cans of tuna and a box of dog treats. She didn’t have enough money, so I offered to buy it all, and she wouldn’t let me. She put back a couple of cans instead, then she had enough $$. That’s when I realized how it might feel for our benefactor to make such a gesture and to have me turn it down. So, Tom and I talked about it, and we accepted it.

Jodi - January 8, 2013

It just breaks my heart that you are all going through this. Personally I know I would do everything that I could for my beloved companions but I also know that our budget will only allow so much.

I’m glad our little fundraiser could help you a bit with Lilly’s care.

I was very overwhelmed by Lauren’s generosity, it shows me that there really are wonderful people in this world.

We will continue to hold you both in our hearts and in our prayers.
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Sue at Talking Dogs - January 8, 2013

I’m overwhelmed by your post and can’t get my thoughts in order. One thing is for sure: the news media may be full of horrors, but the kindness shown to you and Lilly swell my heart at the goodness of people.

As someone who had the chip in on my blog, I am really sorry about the taxes (had no idea!) Let us know if you figure something else out.
Sue at Talking Dogs recently posted..Good Riddance to 2012My Profile

    Roxanne Hawn - January 8, 2013

    Thanks, Sue. Yes, I had no idea about the tax rules. It’s something like 200 transactions in a year or some dollar amount that triggers an automatic tax issue. Paypal LOCKED my account until I provided my SS# so that they could alert the IRS. I was NOT happy, but like I said, since each thing was a SMALL gift from person to person, I’m pretty sure my CPA will be able to figure it out.

Melanie Kowakski - January 5, 2013

I happened across your blog a few months ago, and now just saw this update. My heart goes out to you, because I lost my 6 yr old Boston Terrier, Poco, to auto-immune meningoencephalitis in Feb 2008. I spent $13,000+ trying to save her. There is an article on this subject that was written by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in their monthly publication, Your Dog. I had Poco in the hospital and then on a drug therapy protocol of phenobarbital and prednisonthe followed by cytosar after it was discovered at her third MRI, another shadow of sorts. Poco lived another four months after her initial cluster seizures, which were devastating to watch. Just as her neurologist thought we may have turned the corner, Poco had her last seizure which landed her back in the hospital in the CCU for 2-1/2 days before she died in my arms. I just lost her brother, Chipper, to a brain tumor Nov 15. I know what you’re going through, and my thoughts and prayers are with you, as you hold your precious close to you. I had no regrets at the time for the course of action I took, but knowing what I do now, I may have acted sooner on Poco’s behalf. Your pup will let you know when it’s time to act. God bless and thank you for sharing her life with us. Melanie
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    Roxanne Hawn - January 6, 2013

    I’m so sorry Melanie to hear about both of your losses. All hail Poco. All hail Chipper. These neuro cases are so VERY scary (and expensive). I’m going to write about it soon, but there are times when I have doubts about some of my decisions, but all of us do the best we can in the moment, when faced with these emergencies and illnesses. My husband believes the farther we get from the vaccination, the more Lilly’s chances of survival improve. I’m not sure that’s the case, but it’s a nice thought that gives us a reason to keep at it … as long as Lilly can remain strong.

Alexandra - January 5, 2013

I so admire what you did for your Lilly and look forward to reading more as she continues to improve in the months to come.

Saoirse - January 5, 2013

Lilly lives in all of us, too, because you choose to share her with us so generously. Bless you all.

Donna - January 5, 2013

It sounds like you have done/are doing everything possible to help Lily. I’ve had several people chip in for when we were in need with our girl Meadow, and it is humbling the kindness of others.

I keep falling behind in my blog reading and had no idea Lauren ended up giving her half of the calendar funds to help Lily – how generous of her too!

May 2013 bring Lily good health and prosperity to your family.
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Hilary - January 5, 2013

Knowing your family dynamics from your blog posts, and seeing how much Lilly is truly a champion of your heart, it’s worth the sacrifices you’re making to ensure that she has the best care and life she could possibly have. Lilly is a special girl that deserves this chance. Thanks for writing about all that you’re up to so we can learn from your experiences.

Living Large - January 5, 2013

I just did a pet resolutions post for Pet360 in which it was advised to set up an emergency fund. Still, I don’t think anyone could ever anticipate anything like this.

    Linda - January 5, 2013

    Kind of like the old Christmas savings accounts my parents had way way back in the day. It’s a great idea.

Pam Lang - January 5, 2013

I truly know what you are writing about…unfortunately, from experience. Our Black Shih Tzu, Ruby had champion show lines, was shown & also worked as a certified Therapy Dog…just a beautiful dog inside & out. Our world changed a few days after her routine 3 yr vaccinations. The vets refused to acknowledge that this sudden onset of probs were vaccination related. She was treated & we were charged for several rounds of steroids, meds, creams, special shampoos & so on along with mounting office visits. We changed her food from Royal Canin & even grainfree bland foods still caused problems. In two years, I searched for vets hoping for other options…bloodwork & tests showed her auto immune system was pretty much gone. She lost most of her show coat, itched & chewed her skin to sores & scabs. I tried everything & once in awhile, a new option would bring temporary relief & new hope for us. I couldn’t bring myself to put her down, due to my denial & clinging to the hope that the next dr or option would be “the one” to bring our Ruby back to health. Ruby passed to Rainbow Bridge a year this past Nov. at the age of 5 yrs old. This never should have happened. I researched everything I could get my hands on regarding vaccinations & I now refuse certain vaccines to be administered, require a titers test prior to vaccination & all shots are divided up. One at a time. I will keep you & your baby in prayer and tell you to not give up your research…best wishes, Pam

Barbara Doheny - January 5, 2013

Hang in there. After going thru all the chemo etc, Lilly clearly wants to live. I spent $1000s extending my cat’s life 6 months & worth it.

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