Girl's best friend
Patient and dog bond after similar surgeries
Owners and their dogs often share a strong connection, but 14-year-old Molly Mullen shares more with her dog than most—both have undergone major heart surgeries.
Seven months into her pregnancy with Molly, Barbara Mullen went in for an ultrasound to determine the gender of her first child. But the ultrasound detected more than just the fact that Barbara would be having a baby girl, it showed that Molly had a congenital heart defect known as tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia.
"Molly's heart had a large hole between its two lower pumping chambers and blockage of the artery carrying blood into the lungs," says Jane Newburger, MD, MPH, associate cardiologist-in-chief at Children's Hospital Boston.
After the ultrasound, Barbara was monitored extensively and switched to a high risk doctor at Brigham and Woman's Hospital so they could plan the treatment Molly would receive after birth. Then, in the early hours of December 22, 1990, Molly entered the world. Barbara and her husband Frank shared only a few minutes with their new baby girl before she was taken to Children's Newborn Intensive Care Unit.
A week later, Children's cardiovascular surgeon John Mayer, MD, repaired the hole between the two lower pumping chambers of the heart (ventricles), and created a new pathway using a tube that allows blood to reach the lungs from the right side of the heart.
At age 5, Molly underwent another heart operation, but after the procedure, she developed an immune reaction that caused fluid to accumulate around her heart. "The fluid needed to be drained," says Newburger, "and Molly needed to be watched carefully to be sure it didn't accumulate again."
The frequent visits to Children's were stressful for Molly's family, but a little twist of fate presented a wonderful gift to the Mullens, especially Molly. Barbara saw a Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) ad in the newspaper asking if anyone would like to adopt a puppy named Daisy. A Samoyed-mixed breed, Daisy had a congenital heart defect that required surgical repair, and after a successful recovery, she was ready for a family.
While the Mullens already had a dog named Rosie, they couldn't resist putting in an application—there were far too many coincidences that the family couldn't ignore.
For one thing, Daisy had a heart defect like Molly. Also, their first dog was going to be called Daisy, but their son Collin preferred the name Rosie. And Daisy's foster care owners called her Froggy (since she looks like a frog when she sits on her back legs), and Molly loves frogs. "I have billions of frog stuffed animals," she says.
The Mullens regularly called and stopped by the MSPCA. They also submitted letters written by Molly, her sister Kathleen, 12, and Collin, 7, explaining why they were the perfect fit for Daisy. Molly wrote:
Dear to whom it may concern:
I think that Daisy would be a good companion for us because we are a loving family. We have a dog named Rosie, and she loves it here. I had similar operations that Daisy is about to have. I am doing fine. Please let us get Daisy.
The MSPCA soon called the Mullens to come in for an interview where they were able to meet Daisy and have her play with Rosie. At the end of the interview the shelter had made up its mind. Daisy moved in with the Mullens.
It didn't take long for Molly to realize that Daisy was more than just a dog she can take for walks and play in the backyard with; Daisy is a friend to whom she can relate. "Daisy makes me feel like I'm not the only one," says Molly. I don't feel alone or left out all the time."
Through Daisy, this shy, sweet girl has a new-found willingness to inform others about her condition. "It's a lot easier to talk about it because I know there are other people and animals that have this condition," she says.
Currently, Molly and Daisy are doing great. Molly just finished up her softball league. "She shows a lot of spunk," says her father, Frank. "She's an aggressive second baseman and playing this position as a lefty is unheard of." In fact, Molly recently won her All-Star Home Run Derby, belting 10 home runs!
As for Daisy, she just went in for an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart), and the results read normal. She will return for another reading in six months. "The whole backyard is filled with holes, so we know Daisy is doing fine," says Barbara.
Molly and Daisy's relationship is truly unique, and in the words of this bright softball star, having this similarity is just plain "cool."