Heroic dog that tried to save owner in fatal fire not off ventilator but doing 'OK'

GOSHEN TWP., Ohio - A heroic dog named Carmen that risked her life trying to save her owner during a fatal house fire still isn’t strong enough to breathe on her own.

But the veterinarians and nurses looking after the 9-year-old boxer believe she’s showing signs of improvement.

“She's doing OK,” said Dr. Daniel Carey, emergency veterinarian at Cincinnati Care Center. “Considering what Carmen has been through we think she's doing as well as can be expected.”

RELATED: Dog critical, owner dies after being rescued from Goshen Township house fire
MORE: Vets say next test for Carmen could come Sunday

Carey is part of the medical team that’s been looking after Carmen since she suffered severe lung damage when smoke and flames filled the basement of her Goshen Township home on Thursday. A neighbor said she was found covering the face of her owner, Ben Ledford, in an effort to save him.

Sadly, Ledford died a short time after he was taken to an area hospital. But they managed to rush the 33-year-old's beloved pup to a veterinary hospital for emergency treatment.

By Friday evening vets had sedated the dog and placed her on a ventilator. They wanted Carmen to put less stress on her lungs and give them a chance to heal.

Carmen fights for her life

The medical staff at Cincinnati Care Center said Carmen has shown improved since arriving. So much so they were initially hopeful she’d come off the ventilator by the end of the weekend.

“So, our best case scenario would've seen her coming off the machine today. I think as it looks now that may not be able to happen,” he said Sunday afternoon. “It's still early in the day so we'll see how things go.”

As of late Sunday night, however, there hadn't been enough of a change in Carmen’s condition to remove her from the ventilator.

Carey said at this point Carmen's lungs are not ready to start doing the work on their own. They found that out by “gently” testing some of the settings on the machine and seeing she still needs a “lot of assistance” with her breathing.

That’s not necessarily a bad sign, though.

“It's not unexpected that she's not ready to come off. It's just that in our best case scenario (we thought) maybe we could've hoped to get her off this afternoon,” Carey added. “I think maybe that might not happen today.”

While they’re not going to rush anything, Carey said it’s better to get a patient off a ventilator sooner rather than later. It's more difficult for the body to adapt to being off the machine if they've been relying on one for an extended amount of time.

It doesn’t matter if the patient is a human or a canine.

“It's just, it's a more natural state for the body to be regulating these kinds of things and I think there's lots of good controls in the body for doing that,” Carey said. “The longer we use a machine to regulate that to some degree the more the body starts kind of relaxing and not ready to take those things over."

It's particularly difficult for fire victims.

“Whenever they put a patient on a ventilator they're looking at a 50/50 chance of getting them off breathing on their own,” he added. “The smoke ventilation cases are often the hardest to manage off the ventilator.”

While Carmen's lungs aren’t where vets want them to be just yet, they're happy with Carmen’s overall progress. She is “very mentally alert, very mentally appropriate,” Carey said.

Many times smoke inhalation patients will have neurologic problems from the carbon monoxide that's breathed in with that.

Carmen does not.

“What Carmen has going for her is that her problem is all related to her lungs, no other organ systems, so that's a positive,” Carey said.

The medical team is measuring her heart and respiratory rates to make sure things stay that way. She’s also hooked to an IV.

“She's resting. She's very heavily sedated so that she won't fight – you know, that she's got a tube down her trachea or windpipe,” Carey added. "She seems very comfortable.”

Dr. Marlo Anderson, another vet at the facility, said Friday that despite all the positives so far, Carmen still has a long way to go.

"She is definitely still considered very critical but she is certainly in better condition than she was before we put her on the ventilator," Anderson said.

In spite of it all, Carmen remains playful, loving and full of spirit.

"She seems to be very social, so anytime we are over here with her she's kind of up and trying to interact with us as best she can," Anderson said.

WCPO's Jay Warren and Brian Mains contributed to this report.

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