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Family of dog with failing kidneys receives miracle organ donation

ST. LOUIS – A dog who gave everything she had to a litter of puppies is repaid with the ultimate gift. When her health was failing and she needed a kidney transplant, her family did not have to look too far for help.

This story begins three years ago on a hot summer day in southern Missouri. A dog named Star was found in a plywood box with a litter of puppies. They had no food or water, according to Shannon Flegle, DVM and owner of Murphy Animal Hospital in High Ridge.

Star had given birth to 13 puppies; nine survived. She was severely dehydrated and undernourished, but her puppies were thriving.

By the time Star arrived at Murphy Animal Hospital, Flegle said the dog was in advanced kidney failure and having seizures. However, after several weeks of medical care, Star bounced back. She was adopted by Flegle and her husband, Jeff.

Star was doing well until one day this summer she began vomiting and would not eat, Flegle said. Tests showed Star's kidneys were failing.

Flegle said she gave Star intravenous fluids, supplements, and tried acupuncture. When those options did not work, she began to consider more extreme options like dialysis and a kidney transplant, both of which are rare for dogs.

Flegle found a surgeon at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) who would consider Star's case but only if they had a familial match for the kidney.

Fortunately for Star, many of her puppies were still in the St. Louis area, and Flegle still kept in contact with a few of the families who adopted Star's puppies.

One of the puppies was adopted by the Murray family. They named her Elsa.

"It just really seemed like she picked us at the time," said Jenny Murray.

The Murray family was part of the group of people who had adopted Star's puppies and kept in contact. However, Murray was not prepared for the call she got this summer.

"She said, 'I have a crazy question for you,'" said Murray.

Through tears, Flegle explained to Murray about Star's health problems and the need for a kidney transplant. Flegle asked Murray to reach out to the puppies' families to see if anyone would be willing to get their dog tested.

"I could tell this was a mom, this was her baby, you know," said Murray. "She was going to do what she needed to do to save her baby."

Murray had a human family member who received a kidney from a living donor, and she felt like this was a great way to help out another family. However, she could not make this decision alone.

Murray consulted with her husband, Patrick, and children: Isaac, 10, Audrey, 7, and Claire, 5. They discussed the risks and benefits and decided to help.

Murray said to her kids, "This is Elsa's chance to save her mom, and they're like, 'Oh so she's a hero!'"

On October 10, surgeons at UW performed the rare transplant surgery on the mother and daughter.

“And 36 hours later her blood work was normal,” said Flegle.

Both dogs are back home in the St. Louis area recovering. Similar to humans, the one kidney in each dog will grow to compensate for the missing one. Both are expected to live normal lives.