ALAMEDA, Calif. -- A Bay Area man is digging deep into his pockets and has cashed out his 401(k) to save his dog's life.
Judging by her abundance of vim and vigor while playing at Jean Sweeny Park in Alameda, you'd never know 12-year old mini Schnauzer, Lola, has a life-threatening condition.
"We had an episode in November where she came back from a walk and she fainted... She has an enlarged heart because she has a damaged mitral valve," says her owner, Jason Garrett.
In other words, Lola has pre-heart failure. In her case, she was given a prognosis of months, if not a year or so to live. While each case differs in severity, this condition is the most common heart issue for dogs, affecting millions. Lola's dad Jason says Lola, a certified therapy dog, has saved his life countless times.
"I suffer from severe depression and bipolar disorder. The reason I continue to survive and even thrive with the disease is Lola."
After doing research and reaching out to people across the country, Jason now has hope, thanks to a type of open-heart surgery pioneered by Japanese doctor Masami Uechi. His surgeries have a 90-percent success rate, but there's a catch.
"The downside is it's about $45,000. I've already cashed out my 401K and using every penny of my savings, and I'm also looking into selling my car if need be," says Jason.
This surgery was only available in Japan. But now, surgeons are being trained to do the procedure at the University of Florida by Dr. Uechi himself. This makes the surgery not only more accessible, but can eventually bring the cost down.
Dr. Justin Williams is Lola's Veternarian Cardiologist at OakVet Animal Specialty Hospital in Oakland.
"Right now it's a very unique and very high skilled procedure that's a combination of different teams from around the world coming together. The more experience for efficiency the more available through the United States."
Carol Young of South San Francisco got this procedure for her dog back in 2017.
"His procedure was successful, and he has not had any cardiac issues since," Young told ABC7 News.
Since her dog's surgery, Young has worked with Dr. Uechi as part of the Mighty Hearts Project, assisting other Americans and some Bay Area residents in getting the surgery for their dogs in Japan. She says the cost to have the surgery in Japan is cheaper, at only $17,000, but that does not include the cost of care for any complications or the travel and transportation cost for owners and dogs to Japan.
Dr Simon Swift with the University of Florida, confirmed that they hope to start surgeries this summer, pending visa processing.
Jason says that he now has peace of mind that if Lola gets the surgery she will live at least another 4 years. And that dog owners everywhere can find that same hope too.
"Anything for Lola. She's family."
Jason is currently setting up a GoFundMe account to help offset the cost of the surgery and travel expenses.
He also wanted to include his email in this article in case anyone has questions about their own pet. You can reach him at LetsSaveLola@gmail.com.