Rapunzel and Calliope

Since 2015, I’ve fostered a handful of different neonatal litters. Approximately two litters (or individual kittens / a pair of kittens) per year. I’m not an expert, but neonatal kittens are incredibly fragile and I’ve learned more about the care that they require from each and every kitten. Up until recently, I’d only ever lost one.
A month ago, I received a phone call from a family who have been trying to trap various cats belonging to a feral colony that moved into their neighborhood for the purposes of getting them spayed and neutered. A “mama cat” who they believe to still be a young kitten herself gave birth to three kittens and immediately abandoned them. I told them to bring the babies in right away. By the time they got to me, one of the three had already passed.

The youngest kittens I’d ever taken in prior were at least a few days old, but these remaining two were literal newborns, umbilical cords still attached, etc. I was worried because they didn’t even get the benefits of colostrum from their mother and one had already passed, but I’m pretty stubborn and determined and agreed without hesitation to take on the remaining two. I let the finder know that I could make no promises but I would do my very best.

From day one they have been difficult. They have struggled to hit their milestones. They’ve had several emergencies and we are so beyond lucky to have access to unlimited veterinary care through my work. The downside is that the emergency clinics in my area are not well versed in neonatal care and have not been much help in emergencies, so I have felt “on my own” when emergencies happen at night as my work’s in-house veterinary clinic is not open 24hours.
Once they passed the three week mark, I hoped that the worst was behind us. I was especially focused on the littlest one, the “runt”, Calliope.

A few days ago I did their 8pm feeding. Both ate, though Rapunzel was less enthusiastic about it. I did not find that alarming because she had been ravenous the previous day and had extra feedings. About an hour later, one of them began meowing which I thought was odd as they usually pass out for a good hour and a half after a meal. I went to check on them and found Rapunzel in respiratory distress barely breathing. Calliope was the one crying out for help.
I immediately called the nearest ER and told them I had a three and a half week old kitten in respiratory distress, and they told me they “didn’t have room.” I was watching this kitten struggling to breath, her tongue and gums turning pale, and they ER said NO?! What the actual FUCK!? I called the next nearest one, further away, and they said to bring her in ASAP. We left immediately and my friend sped like a bat out of hell, but it still took us over 20 minutes to get there. Rapunzel was wrapped up in a blanket in my arms and she was fading away as I was sobbing and begging her to hold on. I was hysterical, but I started CPR and kept rubbing her to keep her blood and oxygen flowing. By the time we arrived, I knew she was gone but I kept rubbing her and performing CPR. They took her in immediately and I told them to do everything in their power to revive her. They tried a few drugs and CPR but after 20 minutes of attempted revival they let me know that her heart had stopped and there was nothing more they could do.

The only information I have is “fading kitten syndrome” which just means they have no idea. I am heartbroken and devastated. What if she had aspirated at some point earlier and was slowly declining throughout the day? I had noticed she had less energy but she wasn’t in distress prior. I can’t help but feel responsible for her death, even if it was just me not recognizing her signs of decline.

As devastated as I was, I threw that determination into Calliope. My heart absolutely shattered to pieces when she started loudly crying throughout the night as suddenly her sister was gone and she didn’t understand why. Next feeding, I discovered that Calliope, as hungry as she was and desperate for her bottle, seemed to have forgotten how to latch/suck. Desperate to ensure that she got enough nutrition, I “cut” her formula with flavorless electrolytes and also supplemented her with some kitten nutri-cal in a syringe. I resorted to tube feeding and syringe feeding since she is struggling with the bottle. This was her second milestone regression, her first being last week when she suddenly lost the ability to walk/crawl and the vets could not figure out why. Her tremors worsened as well.

Our vet has run what tests that we can with her small size. Her tremors are not due to low glucose. She is eating (with my determination) the correct amount for her weight. (She is underweight, she should weigh over 1lb by now but weighs 0.75lbs.) 

The suspicion currently is cerebellar hypoplasia (wobbly cat syndrome), but it could also be an enzyme storage disease or other congenital diseases. I’m really rooting for wobbly cat, because cats with that neuro disorder can still live a full and healthy life. We cannot test for the other possibilities yet because she is too small and we wouldn’t be able to safely get enough blood. It’s my job right now to keep her alive long enough for her to get big enough to run more tests. 

Calliope is special. I haven’t felt this bond with a baby since Rue in 2015. She had special needs as well as a baby and now she’s a healthy adult cat who is just as bonded to me as she was when she was a baby. I was told more times than I could count to give up on Rue, but I refused and she beat the odds. I am determined to help Calliope do the same. 

We need your help. I’m not religious, but I really need as many people as possible to rally for this baby. If you’re religious, pray. If you’re spiritual, send her good vibes. If you’re an atheist, just think about her and hope that she makes it. The world needs this baby to make it. I “know” that just like I “knew” with Rue. 

Calliope is special. She can do this. I believe it.

Rest in peace, Rapunzel. I am so, so sorry. I tried so hard but I couldn’t get you to the ER fast enough. You were a sweet and beautiful baby and its not fair that you didn’t get to live out a full kitty life. The world’s loss of you won’t be in vain. I’m going to put together a neonatal nursery in the Seattle area so no baby has to suffer for a lack of emergency availability, and a lack of neonatal knowledge. You are loved, and you will be missed.

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