Mastiff saved thanks to WSU Good Samaritan Fund, generosity of strangers

Closeup of Gracie, a cane corso mastiff.
Gracie, a cane corso mastiff dog, sits in the lobby of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, the day before she underwent surgery to receive a heart pacemaker (photo by College of Veterinary Medicine/Ted S. Warren).

It didn’t take long for Gracie to steal the heart of 62-year-old Sean Manwill.

The young cane corso mastiff spent the first year of her life confined in a small concrete pen before being rescued this past summer by Manwill, who says it was fate the two found each other. But shortly after coming into his life, Gracie, at just 18-months-old, was dying from congestive heart failure. Without an expensive procedure to place a pacemaker in her heart, she only had months to live.

The diagnosis, delivered by cardiologists at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, was devastating for Manwill, who survives on a limited income and grapples with his own debilitating health issues. He was willing to pour every penny he had into saving Gracie, but he needed help.

And it came from all over the country, as strangers and even “WSU Ambassadog” Dash Dog rallied behind a GoFundMe campaign for Gracie. With additional support from WSU’s Good Samaritan Fund — established to help animals in need of care whose owners cannot afford treatment — Gracie got her pacemaker in January and now has a chance at living a healthier and fuller life. 

Fourth-year veterinary medicine students Emeshe Xavier, left, and Clint Broader, center, help prepare Gracie, a cane corso mastiff dog, for surgery to implant a heart pacemaker on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
Fourth-year veterinary medicine students Emeshe Xavier, left, and Clint Broader, center, help prepare Gracie, a cane corso mastiff dog, for surgery to implant a heart pacemaker on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital (photo by College of Veterinary Medicine/Ted S. Warren).

“Without this help, I don’t know that we would have been able to get Gracie her pacemaker. I love her so much — she’s my shadow and protector,” Manwill said. “I am so grateful to WSU and for all of those who donated to her GoFundMe campaign and the Good Samaritan Fund.”

Manwill, who lives near Cusick, Washington, and serves as a fire commissioner for Pend Oreille County District 5, first became concerned about Gracie when her belly began to swell to the point that “it looked like she had eaten a watermelon.” A local veterinarian detected a heart murmur and referred Gracie to WSU’s cardiology service.

Soon after, WSU cardiology resident Dr. Anna Golden (’22 DVM) diagnosed Gracie with atrial standstill, a heart condition that results in an abnormally slow heart rate. Gracie’s heart rate of 40–50 beats per minute was well below the normal rate of 80–120 beats per minute.

The slow rate led to increased pressure in Gracie’s heart and, eventually, right-sided congestive heart failure, which caused the fluid buildup in her abdomen and other symptoms like lethargy and loss of muscle mass. Golden suspects Gracie’s condition is genetic.

Genevieve Rojas, center, a cardiology technician, checks the results of an electrocardiogram as WSU cardiology resident Dr. Anna Golden, left, and WSU cardiologist Dr. Lynne Nelson, second from left, look on, after a heart pacemaker was implanted in Gracie (photo by College of Veterinary Medicine/Ted S. Warren).

Although a pacemaker offered hope, Manwill had depleted his limited resources on Gracie’s care. Fortunately, Manwill qualified to receive support from WSU’s Good Samaritan Fund, and he also created a GoFundMe campaign, which was later shared by Ande Edlund, who manages Dash Dog’s Instagram account. Within 48 hours of sharing, Manwill had raised enough money to move forward with Gracie’s procedure.

In mid-January, Gracie returned to Pullman for the roughly two-hour procedure to implant the pacemaker. The surgery team, which included Golden, cardiologist Lynne Nelson and fourth-year veterinary student Allison Groff, also removed a total of 10 liters of fluid — roughly 20 pounds — from Gracie’s abdomen.

“She was feeling much better after the procedure, and we were able to set her heart rate to 80 beats per minute,” Golden said.

Fourth-year veterinary student Allison Groff, right, and WSU cardiology resident Dr. Anna Golden, center, pose for a photo with Sean Manwill, left, and his dog Gracie ( photo by College of Veterinary Medicine/Genevieve Rojas).

Manwill has been blown away by the support he and Gracie received. Gracie’s GoFundMe campaign is still active, as she will need additional care going forward.

“I was desperate to try to save my dog and to have so much wonderful help from such wonderful people, it’s just a blessing,” he said. “Dr. Golden has the perfect name. She is just a wonderful example of a doctor who loves animals and cares. The rest of the cardiology team, including Dr. Nelson and patient services coordinator Rebecca Runyan, the students, I just love these people.”

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