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AbledResearch Post banner shows a silhouette of Abled.com Co-Founder Laura Meddens walking with her Seeing Eye guide dog Wagner against a magnified golden-hued image of Wagner's T-Cells as seen through an electron microscope. The headline reads: Cancer: A Brave Guide Dog's Legacy In T-Cell Immunotherapy Research for Humans.

Abled Co-Founder Laura Meddens sits with her Seeing Eye guide dog Wagner on some coral rocks at the seaside in Curaçao in the southern Caribbean.

 

Wagner’s T-Cell therapy helps to advance research into non-toxic cancer treatments for humans

 

Cancer. The ‘C’ word that strikes fear in every heart. Every day, it breaks more hearts than it should have a right to.

But every so often, extraordinary stories emerge about extraordinary individuals who give it their best fight thanks to their own courage and the determination of oncologists and researchers who fight alongside them.

This is one of those stories, but the individual concerned, is of the four-legged variety, and his courage is no less extraordinary than his human counterparts who are waging life and death battles with this sinister disease.

His name is Wagner, but everyone who loved him knew him as ‘Waggie’. He is one of the thousands of service dogs trained by The Seeing Eye® that have brought a new level of independent mobility to blind or visually-impaired persons. In Waggie’s case that person is the Co-Founder of Abled.com, Laura Meddens. The photos below show Laura meeting and training with Wagner at the Seeing Eye’s headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey.

 

Abled.com co-founder Laura Meddens is shown in a series of photos meeting her guide dog Wagner in late 2006 at the Seeing Eye Guide Dog School in Morristown, New Jersey.

 

They’ve been a team since 2006 and have been ‘opening eyes and opening doors’ on the Caribbean island of Curaçao through The Laura And Wagner Foundation as they raised awareness about service dogs and lobbied for better access rights for persons with guide dogs, after being turned away from banks, restaurants and other places normally-sighted people could freely go.

 

Laura Meddens and Wagner are shown in photos visiting a number of schools on the Caribbean island of Curaçao raising awareness about the role of guide dogs and access rights for the people who use them.

 

Waggie was also the mascot for the Foundation’s Abled® initiative to take the ‘dis’ out of disabled. But just as Laura was losing what was left of her vision, Waggie was diagnosed with B-Cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Following chemotherapy and enzyme treatments in Amsterdam, and a change from dry kibble food to a natural food diet consisting of meat and vegetables, Wagner went into remission twice, until the tumors in his lymph nodes started growing again. His chemotherapy options were at an end in the Netherlands and it was recommended that he be put to sleep.

 

A race against time and the promise of T-cell non-toxic cancer treatments

 

It was then Laura became aware of a remarkable clinical trial being conducted by a team of oncologists and veterinarians in the United States and an invitation was extended for Wagner to be a part of it. There was nothing to lose and Waggie was definitely worth the fight.

First, his blood samples needed to be taken. Laura had great help and support from her neighborhood veterinarian in Amsterdam – Drs. Carreen Loriaux and her assistant Natasja Slooten at the Dierenkliniek Ijburglaan.

 

Laura Meddens is shown in two photos entering the Dierenkliniek Ijburg Veterinary practice in Amsterdam where Dr. Careen Loriaux takes a blood sample from Wagner with the help of Natasja Slooten

 

Then with the help of Dr. Marc Elisen and his colleagues at the OLVG Hospital in Amsterdam, as well as the help of the many people listed below, Waggie’s blood samples were shipped over to Houston from Amsterdam the same day. You can read more about that global effort at our facebook page.

 

A map shows the route that Wagner's blood samples traveled via a KLM direct flight from Amsterdam to Houston.

A graphic shows the list of Waggie's 'Angels' who assisted with the same day shipment of his blood samples from Amsterdam to Houston.

 

After the flight left Amsterdam at 10 AM local time, Liliana Pereyra and her colleagues at TNT along with Claudia Cousins and her colleagues at W.R. Zanes and Co. of La. Inc, helped to pre-clear the shipment in the air and ensure a speedy Customs clearance and delivery to the MD Anderson Cancer Center Cooper Lab the same afternoon, where Dr. Colleen O’Connor was waiting to cryopreserve Waggie’s blood samples.

Then she would isolate a certain type of fighter T-cells from his blood and expand them to number over three billion, ready to be re-infused back into his bloodstream to kill the cancer cells.

 

Dr. Colleen O'Connor examines Wagner's T-Cells under the micrscope at the MD Anderson Cancer Center Cooper Lab in Houston, Texas

 

Cancer research goes to the dogs in Texas

 

The trial is being run by the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas in Houston, and Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Small Animal Clinic in College Station, Texas.

 

Two photos show the MD Anderson Cancer Center location in Houston that Houses the Cooper Lab and the second photo shows the outside front of the SMall Animal CLinic at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.

 

“We developed this idea after observing clinical data that showed the faster the human T-cells recovered after chemotherapy, the better the patient’s prognosis,” says Colleen O’Connor, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow at 
MD Anderson’s Children’s Cancer Hospital (CCH) and an investigator on the trial. “Thus, we tried infusing large numbers of healthy T-cells back into the dog to help the immune system recover after chemotherapy.”

 

Photos show the research team at MD Anderson Cancer Center and Texas A&M University School of veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, including team leader Dr. Lawrence Cooper, Assistant Professor Heather WIlson Robles and Dr. Colleen O'Connor 

The trial, undertaken in collaboration with Heather Wilson-Robles, D.V.M., assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, is proving successful and yielding new insights into the disease. Two of the dogs treated with T-cell therapy have been in complete remission for two years post T-cell therapy, and most of the others have lived well past the 10-month period.

This T-cell therapy isn’t restricted to lymphoma, however. Because the composition of canine blood is very similar to human blood, especially in children, it is hoped the research gained will lead to new treatment protocols for humans. An experimental T-cell therapy in Philadelphia has already saved a 7 year-old girl from an aggressive form of leukemia. On November 10, 2013,  Emily Whitehead marked 18 months cancer-free and counting.

“The power of this study is that it can be used for all types of cancer,” says Laurence Cooper, M.D., Ph.D., professor and section chief of pediatric T-cell therapy at CCH and the study’s senior author. “In the near future, we’re interested in targeting other malignancies, such as brain tumors and bone cancers using this approach as a platform.”

 

Laura and Wagner pose for a photo on a bridge over one of the canals in Amsterdam before leaving for Texas.

 

In March, 2013, after Dr. O’Connor had expanded over three billion of Waggie’s T-Cells, it was time for Laura and Wagner to travel from Amsterdam to Texas.

 

A photo of Laura and Wagner walking down a hallway at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine with Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles and Dr. Colleen O'Connor as overlaid text reads: Indiegogo.com supporters help send Laura and her guide-dog Wagner to a clinical trial in Texas to use his own T-cells to fight his canine cancer. The data will be used in developing non-toxic cancer treatments for humans. The Fight To Make Cancer "History".

 

Laura Meddens sits with Waggie in the waiting area of the Small Animal Clinic at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in College Station, Texas.

 

Because his tumors had started growing again, Wagner underwent two rounds of chemotherapy in Texas to optimize his system for three rounds of T-Cell infusions. The chemotherapy achieved tremendous tumor reduction, and Waggie was, effectively, in remission, but the second round of chemotherapy left him severely weakened, and unbeknownst to everyone at the time, put him at great risk of another threat.

 

Laura and Wagner have a photo taken at the MD Anderson COoper Lab in Houston, Texas with Dr. Colleen O'Connor, Shelley Robson, MD Anderson's Associate Director of Development whose late dog Dutch was also part of the T-Cell clinical trial, and Sara J. Farris, Senior Communications Specialist with MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.

Laura and Wagner have a photo taken at the MD Anderson Cooper Lab in Houston, Texas with (L-R) Dr. Colleen O’Connor, Shelley Robson – MD Anderson’s Associate Director of Development, (whose late dog Dutch was also part of the T-Cell clinical trial), and Sara J. Farris, Senior Communications Specialist with MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital.

 


ABC US News | ABC Business News

 

After a month of treatment, Laura returned with her beloved guide dog to Amsterdam but a few weeks later Waggie started getting weaker and, on a hunch, Laura decided to have him tested for Erlichia (the bacteria that cause tick disease) because of the large number of ticks encountered on the hotel parking lot and nearby field in College Station.

It was a hunch that would prove correct.  Despite wearing a flea and tick collar and having taken preventative medication, as well as doing all-over checks on Waggie’s coat after every outing, the tests came back positive for tick disease.

That, on top of the lymphoma, proved to be too much for Waggie’s immune system to handle, and after her loyal companion stopped eating or drinking and developed breathing complications, Laura had to make the heartbreaking decision to end his suffering. On May 21, 2013, Dr. Carreen Loriaux helped put Waggie to rest in his own bed at home.

 

Laura Meddens bids a sad farewell to her guide dog Waggie

 

It was devastating news to pass along, especially to the teams at MD Anderson and Texas A&M.

Dr. Colleen O’Connor of the MD Anderson Cancer Center wrote: 

“I have not been able to find the words to say how sorry I am about Waggie’s passing.  It was a shock, especially since we spoke the week before and I thought he was going to come around.

I was hoping he would beat the erlichia and then we could re-concentrate on curing the lymphoma. Having lost my own dog to cancer in 2009, I can understand how devastated you feel right now.  Not only was he an important part of your independence, but he was a much loved family member as well.  It was clearly evident how much love and respect he had for you. 

Waggle was a lucky “little” dog to have an owner who would literally go to the ends of the earth for him.

Thank you so much for letting Waggie be a part of this study.  His legacy is very unique.  His participation will help many dogs and children diagnosed with cancer now and in the future. From Waggie, we have learned more about how T- cells move towards the tumors, biomarkers which can predict the treatment’s efficacy, and the development of T cell infusion protocols. 

We are optimizing new techniques right now so we can look at his red-stained T-cells before and after the infusions to see if there are any genetic or physical changes, which can help us improve the efficacy of future T-cell treatments.  It is truly amazing and I hope it can bring you a small bit of comfort.  I really appreciate that you trusted T-cell therapy, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas A&M and me enough to enroll Waggie in this cutting edge trial.

Once again, I am so sorry for your loss.  Waggie was a gentle and kind soul. I enjoyed very much getting to know him and you.

 

Waggie enjoying running along one of the canals in the Amsterdam suburb of Ijburg before going to Houston.

 

Asst. Professor Heather Wilson-Robles of the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences wrote: 

“I am so sorry to hear about Waggie.  He was such a brave and incredible dog.  Our whole team was deeply saddened to hear that he had been put to sleep.  You did everything you possibly could for him and he was lucky to have such a dedicated and loving family.  I wish we could have done more for him.  We will continue to work hard to find better treatments for this devastating disease. Please know that you and your family are in our thoughts during this very difficult time.”

 

Waggie's favorite pastime, frolicking in the Caribbean Sea in Curaçao.

 

Shelley Robson, MD Anderson’s Senior Associate Director of Development, whose own dog Dutch had previously been part of the clinical trial, wrote:

“I am so sorry to hear this.  I know how heartbroken you must be.  He was such a gift to everyone he touched. It was such an honor to spend the very short time we had with him. 

Please know that you are in our thoughts and prayers.  Words just are not enough right now. 

I hope that you will find comfort, as we did when we lost Dutch, that Waggie’s legacy lives on in all those who had the pleasure of being around him and in the science that he has helped to advance.  He was a very special boy.

He was indeed.

 

A small wooden 3 panel frame shows a set of arched windows with a painting of Wagner with angel wings and a halo in the center window as created by Laura's friend Juanita Cijntje.

An angelic portrait of Waggie as created by Laura’s friend, Juanita Cijntje.

 

Laura is very grateful to everyone who contributed to the effort to try and help save Wagner, and appreciates the many condolences everyone has expressed.

Wagner was a gentle giant and will live on in the hearts and minds of many people around the world.

 

Waggie laying in the grass in Amtsterdam

Photo of Waggie enjoying a park in Amsterdam by Mayke Milder.

 

Photo shows Laura and her guide dog Wagner hiking in the woods near Leersum in the Netherlands as a winter sun beams down between the trees.

 

 

“He was my North, my South, my East and West,

My working week and my Sunday rest . . .”

 

 

A photo shows the silhouettes of Laura and Wagner sitting under a Divi Divi tree at the seaside on Curaçao against a brilliant orange and yellow sunset with the words: In Loving Memory of Waggie, December 31, 2004 - May 21, 2013.

 

A New Chapter: Introducing Nugget

 

After the loss of Wagner, Laura took some time to mourn the loss of her loyal companion and then enrolled in a new training session at the Seeing Eye Guide Dog School where she had first been introduced to Wagner.

Her new guide dog is named Nugget, as in ‘gold nugget’, and is a beautiful Chocolate Labrador Retriever. He was younger than Wagner was when Laura began working with him, but has been steadily maturing into his role as a guide dog and is a quick learner.

Laura is very grateful to Nugget’s puppy raisers for the wonderful job they did in raising a loving and intelligent dog and understands how hard it must have been for them to ‘send him off to school’. It is truly a gift that keeps on giving.

In the photos below, clock-wise from the top left, Laura and Nugget visit the statue of Seeing Eye Founder Morris Frank and Buddy, the very first guide dog in the U.S., in downtown Morristown, New Jersey; Laura and Nugget have their portrait taken at The Seeing Eye Guide Dog School with their trainer Janice Abbott; bottom right shows Nugget still thinking he’s a lap puppy at Laura’s mother’s house in the Netherlands; bottom right shows Laura and Nugget standing in front of a house modeled after a railway station while training and visiting friends in the United States.

 

A montage of 4 photos shows, clockwise from upper left, Laura Meddens standing with her new Seeing Eye guide dog Nugget beside the statue of Morris Frank, the Founder of the Seeing Eye and his guide dog Buddy, the very first guide dog in the United States, taken in downtown Morristown, New Jersey. Laura has shoulder length sandy blonde hair and is wearing a lbrown winter coat. Nugget is a chocolate labrador while Buddy is a German Shepherd. The top right photo shows a portrait of Laura and Nugget with their trainer Janice Abbott, taken at the Seeing Eye. The bottom right photo shows Laura sitting with Nugget in her lap at her mother's house in the Netherlands, while the bottom-left photo shows Laura and Nugget standing in front of a house based on a railway station while visiting friends in the United States.

Laura Meddens crouches beside her Seeing Eye Golden retriever guide dog Wagner by the pool of the Hilton Hotel on the Caribbean island of Curaçao.

 

A Special Thank You banner

 

In addition to ‘Waggie’s Angels’ mentioned in the article, Laura also wishes to thank the following ‘angels’:

Her mother Beatrice Meddens and friends Ralph van der Ent and Jack Desmares for their help and support;

Loeki Mollenaar for her kind support, especially during Waggie’s cremation;

John WhiteWendy AldenHelen Hoitsma-Pappa and Lawrence Sonnntag for their help in publicizing the Indiegogo campaign to help cover some of the costs of sending Laura & Wagner to the clinical trial in Texas, and Waggie’s veterinary costs not covered by the clinical trial;

Chief Michael Guidry and his Staff at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection Office and Officer Robert C. Spooner and his colleagues at the HSCPB Deferred Inspections Office at IAH Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston for their kind help with processing the necessary documents; 

The Crew of the KLM flights between Amsterdam and Houston;

The Management & Staff of the Residence Inn Hotel, College Station;

JD Black, Terry Dietz and the rest of the staff at Northgate Taxi, College Station.

 

About Abled - An Abled Vision shows Abled.com Co-Founder Laura Meddens photographed at the seaside in Curaçao at dusk

 

Thank You To Our Indiegogo.com Donors

 

Your generous and thoughtful contributions helped to make this happen, and they continue to support ongoing research as Dr. Colleen O’Connor outlines in our article how data gathered from Wagner’s T-Cells provide ongoing new information that contributes to refining the process towards standardizing non-toxic cancer therapies for other dogs and humans.

In alphabetical order, our very special thanks to:

 

Anonymous Donors

David Barry

Geoff Beach

Thomas Eldredge

Ferwerda Family

Forbes Family

Karel Frielink – Spigt Curaçao

de Graaf Family

Maarten Reinier de Graaf

Helen Hoitsma

Jan Willem Hoitsma

Melanie Hopkins

Hanco Kachelhoffer

Jim McErlean

Kerstin Rother

Judith Stanton

Andrew Weit

Maarten van Zadelhoff

 

And an equally heartfelt Thank You for additional donations outside the Indiegogo campaign from:

 

Sergio Bakmeijer

Chris Buskes

Ludo and Gemma Commisaris

Jenny Smith

Niels Verheij

Ellen Wijnants van Resandt 

 

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And ongoing gratitude to our Corporate and Non-Profit Supporters who are helping to build the foundation of our Abled initiative:

 

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Troutman Sanders Attorneys at Law featuring Mark J. Newman, Recognized as one of America's Leading Lawyers for Immigration Law by Chambers USA (2006-2013)

 

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