Malibu dog gets second chance

Lily, a 12-year-old Jack Russell Terrier owned by Malibu residents Charlie and Alexandria Skouras, has been given a new lease on life with a pacemaker.

Pacemaker gives Jack Russell Terrier Lily Skouras new life

By Paula Kashtan / Special to the Malibu Times

Alexandria and Charlie Skouras used to laugh about the fact that they had pet insurance. But when their Jack Russell Terrier Lily began suffering mysterious health problems, it didn’t seem so funny.

The Malibu residents are a busy pair-Alexandria, in her 40s, has a design label called I Can 2 Clothing (for which Lily is the logo), and Charlie, in his 50s, is a producer for “Desperate Housewives.” While Charlie has one child from a previous marriage, Lily and her brother Bullit “are our babies,” says Alexandria. When 12-year-old Lily started having health problems, it was a devastating blow to the couple.

“Lily was having seizures, we were panicked and in fear,” Alexandria said. “We would never leave her alone, because we didn’t know what was going on with her.”

After one harrowing episode, the Skouras’ housekeeper brought Lily to Malibu Coast Animal Hospital, but Lily was so nervous that the veterinarian couldn’t perform a thorough examination. Later, at an after-hours visit to the Skouras’ home, the vet determined it was a heart problem. Lily was taken to the Advanced Veterinary Care Center in Lawndale and outfitted with a heart monitor.

On Thanksgiving night, Lily had another seizure and was taken to the hospital. There, the vets were finally able to determine Lily’s diagnosis-Sick Sinus Syndrome, a heart arrhythmia-and that she needed a pacemaker. The Skouras’ didn’t think twice about going through with the operation.

“When we found out what was wrong and that a pacemaker would help, we were just like, ‘we have to do it.’ I was just so relieved,” Alexandria says. “I was actually in Paris when we found out, and Charlie called to tell me, I didn’t even have to say anything, he’d already booked me on a flight home. I literally got off the plane from Paris, went to the animal hospital and brought Lily home with me.”

Some might view heart surgery for dogs as strange, but according to Dr. Reid Nakamura, one of the veterinarians who worked on Lily at the Advanced Veterinary Care Center, pacemakers in dogs are actually relatively common-he places them about once a month. The need is likely greater, but not all dog owners have the means to pay for the procedure and equipment.

The pacemaker equipment and procedure for dogs are similar to those used on humans, only more rudimentary.

“Since dogs have a limited lifespan, we don’t need their hearts to function for decades, as we do in humans,” Nakamura said.

Within 48 hours of returning home after the operation, Lily was acting like a whole new dog.

“She was back running on the beach with her brother and behaving like the dog she used to be,” Alexandria said.

Aside from needing to lay low for a month or so and not being allowed to place pressure on her neck (that’s where the pacemaker’s lead is), Lily is, for all intents and purposes, back to being the same old dog.

Nakamura estimates that Lily will get a good eight to ten years out of the heart – at least her life expectancy, if not more. Since her heart is structurally sound, her prognosis is very good.

Alexandria said her friend’s responses to Lily’s pacemaker have been mixed.

“People who aren’t dog owners are like, ‘what on earthŠand how much did that cost?’ But most people think it’s the most beautiful thing.”

And for the record, just how much did it cost? With all said and done, Alexandria estimates the cost was about $3,500-though of course, that pet insurance package did come in handy. But, as Alexandria would like to add, “We love our dogs. But we’re not weirdos.”