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Dog to blame for man's mysterious illness?

Posted on Sep. 2, 2014 ( comments)
Traveling missionaries Mary and Sam Tozer pose with their dog, Trudy, in front of the fifth wheel trailer they live in for a few months every year.
This is a story about a traveling missionary, his dog, and mysterious bacteria. 

The man is Sam Tozer, 74. His dog is a three-year-old Lhasa Apso named Trudy. 

According to Sam and his wife, Mary, their world revolves around Trudy. 

"She's not only the center of my universe, she’s the one who got me sick," says Sam. "Or so they say."
In July, Sam arrived at the Emergency Department at MultiCare Covington Medical Center in septic shock. He was so sick he was immediately transferred by ambulance to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at MultiCare Auburn Medical Center.

At the Auburn ICU, doctors and nurses tried to diagnose his mysterious symptoms. Sam didn't make sense when he spoke and his blood pressure was dropping. His care team called MultiCare infectious disease expert Abudul Siddiqui, MD. 

Dr. Siddiqui couldn't identify the bacteria he found in Sam's blood culture, so he sent the culture to a lab at the University of Washington. 

Meanwhile, ICU doctors placed Sam in a temporary coma to help him stabilize.

It was the first time Mary couldn't speak to her husband in 51 years.  

Auburn is a long way from Sam and Mary's home in Kingman, Arizona. The Tozers are missionaries who spend a few months every year traveling around the country with Trudy in their fifth wheel trailer to volunteer at Christian camps. 

Back in June, they were at Camp Berachah in Auburn when Sam almost cut his finger off with an electric saw. He had surgery on his finger and stayed on light duty at Camp Berachah while it healed.

Dr. Siddiqui began to pinpoint the cause for Sam's illness when the UW lab confirmed the bacteria was capnocytophaga canimorsus

Capnocytophaga canimorsus lives naturally in the mouth flora of cats and dogs, but once it gets into the human body it can cause serious problems. 

It occurred to Dr. Siddiqui that the family dog, Trudy, likely infected Sam by licking the healing wound on his finger.

Before you stop reading this and start thinking about getting rid of your pets, Dr. Siddiqui says there is no reason to be alarmed — Sam's case is extremely rare.

"I've been practicing for 25 years and this I the first time I've seen it. We've all heard about [this bacteria] and read about it but never seen it," Dr. Siddiqui says. 

Sam and Mary still struggle to believe Trudy is to blame. The couple adopted the dog during a difficult time, when they were caring for Sam's 94-year-old mom and were depressed. Trudy brought happiness back into their lives.

"The dog filled a void for us," Sam says.

"She took our minds off our troubles," says Mary. "She's been a joy ever since."

In fact, the Tozers love Trudy so much that during Sam's stay at Auburn Medical Center, Mary, who slept at the hospital to be near her husband, would go home to check on the dog every morning and evening.

Mary tears up when she talks about Sam's round-the-clock care.

"That team was really something," Mary says. "You can watch all the surgeries on TV but until you've lived through it and seen a team like that… It was awesome and amazing."

Sam agrees.

"My encounter with all of the staff was top notch," he says. "I don't think they realize the impact they make in people's lives. They are friendly. They always smile and ask, 'What can I do to help you?' Those are my kind of people."

Dr. Siddiqui consulted with the ICU team caring for Sam. He also spent time with the Tozer family, which included admiring pictures of Trudy.

Despite mixed feelings from family about keeping Trudy, Dr. Siddiqui encouraged Sam and Mary not to give up their beloved pet.

"It's not the dog's fault," Dr. Siddiqui says. "The dog isn't contaminated; it's bacteria that live in his mouth. The dog is important for [Sam's] health and happiness." 

The doctor also notes Sam's overall good health.

"He had a remarkable recovery," Dr. Siddiqui says. "The best thing in his favor was that he was a healthy guy. People who have a life-threatening illness can pull through with proper care if they are healthy."

Sam credits his recovery to the care teams in Auburn and Covington.

"You don’t realize what quality care is until you get care like we got here."
Posted in: General Vitals

About The Author

Jen Rittenhouse Jen Rittenhouse
Jen Rittenhouse is the social media manager for MultiCare and Mary Bridge Children's Hospital. She writes stories that connect people with hospitals, health care and each other. You can reach her at [email protected].
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