Friday, January 11, 2013

Cold Laser Therapy

Kind of sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? The word "laser" conjures images of a beam hot enough to cut like a knife, and the word "cold" denotes a temperature significantly below sizzling. But "cold laser" is exactly what was called for when I took my sweet little rescue kitty, Ember, in for an emergency evaluation a few weeks ago.

Those who are regular followers of my blog know that Ember, my jet black Bombay, was just a tiny, four-pound kitten when a juvenile delinquent squirted lighter fluid on her head and down the length of her spine and set her on fire in the summer of 2011. She was brought by a good Samaritan to the Baltimore Area Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS) in Baltimore City and for more than a year has undergone multiple surgeries to repair her extensive burns. Her tail was saved, barely, but she did lose the cartilage on her ears. The kitten was fostered for months afterward, until I offered to give her a forever home last April. I named the little darling Ember.  Now, almost a year later, Ember is still having issues with the old burn wounds on her spine. They've healed. But as soon as her stiff, surgical collar is removed and she can reach her spine, she licks the areas raw again, creating chronic sores.

Ember's holiday portrait
In December, when I removed her surgical collar for holiday photos, it took only a few days for Ember to create open sores all along the length of her spine, where her previous surgeries had long since healed. I rushed her to BARCS. They sedated her and shaved the entire spine area to look for trouble. Were there un-dissolved stitches beneath the skin still causing itching or pain after all this time?

Ember’s surgeon at BARCS, Dr. Stanley Schulze, conducted a thorough examination but found nothing. He explained that Ember’s compulsive licking might be psychological – a sort of post traumatic stress response to the horrific trauma she endured as a kitten. Dr. Schulze recommended that I look into cold laser therapy for my sweet girl. It’s expensive, he warned, and only one vet in the area is certified to administer the treatments. But it might heal those wounds once and for all. I vowed to investigate.

One of the hard collar options I've
tried. Made quite a fashion statement
but it didn't work well for Ember
Last week I paid a visit to the clinic where cold laser therapy is administered. Turns out the veterinarian is not too far from my home in Baltimore County. I asked questions. I got pricing (ugh). I brought home a brochure and read all about it. The literature was quite convincing. Chronic sores and burn wounds are just the sort of trauma that the K-Laser was designed to heal. It accelerates cellular function wherever the concentrated beam of light is applied, oxygenating the cells and increasing blood flow. And the tingling sensation from the laser is pleasant to an animal. The treatments also seem to reduce underlying discomfort from pain or itching that may slow the healing process. So I decided.  It was that – or put Ember on "kitty Prozac" for the rest of her life to calm her nerves and relax her compulsion to lick. I made an appointment for the laser procedure.

Ashley administers the laser while
Rachel holds Ember

Today was the first day of treatment. Ember will undergo several weeks of therapy, administered every other day at the clinic for a few minutes at a time. She was a brave patient today, gamely climbing into her carrier for the ride to the vet. Dr. Bruce Brown, DVM, at Liberty Animal Clinic in Randallstown, Maryland, introduced himself and described the procedure. The laser application was simple enough. Dr. Brown showed his veterinary technician, Ashley, where to administer the laser, and for how long. Another vet-tech, Rachel, gently held Ember still, while I talked to the animal softly to keep her calm. We all wore special glasses to prevent the laser beam from damaging our retinas.

The staff at Liberty Animal Clinic knew Ember’s story. Another vet-tech, MacKenzie, is a volunteer at BARCS and was working the day that the badly burned kitten was originally brought to the shelter. Ember received quite a bit of media attention following the incident, and a $1000 reward from Crimestoppers is still offered for information leading to the arrest of her attacker. Everyone at the clinic crowded into the exam room to get a look at my little media star today. I took along photos of her wounds and documentation of her surgeries. All agreed that Ember has come through so much.

The treatment supposedly creates a
mild tingling sensation that animals
find calming
Once the procedure was over, Ember was fitted with a new kind of stiff surgical collar and put back in her carrier for the short ride home. She threw up on the way, alarming me, and seemed a bit out of it once we got home. But she’s fast asleep now, curled up in her bed, with my behemoth kitty, Underfoot, curled up next to her like a big brother, offering comfort and companionship.

Underfoot comforts Ember back at home
I hope this works. I would like my little sweetheart to live a happy life, free of pain and discomfort, free of the awful scars of trauma, and free of tranquilizers, if possible. We’ll know in about three weeks. Keep your fingers crossed for Ember’s recovery and an end to her ordeal, once and for all.

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