Pooch Gets a Second Chance at Life Thanks to Mazankowski Nurse

Thanks to Pamela Heggie’s cardiac rehab knowledge, Kai has shed 100 lb. and is living life to the fullest

Story and photo by Vanessa Gomez

Kai, left, sits with Pamela Heggie and Abby at the dog park. Kai came to Heggie weighing 173 lb., but thanks to her knowledge of cardiac rehabilitation and Kai’s focus and determination to run with other dogs, he has shed 100 lb. and has been given a second chance at life.

People and pets. Sometimes they’re really not so different.

That’s what Pamela Heggie, a registered nurse with the adult congenital heart clinic at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute, found when she applied her knowledge of rehabilitating cardiac patients to help an ailing furry friend.

Already an owner of two dogs, Heggie decided to foster another when The Misfits of Alberta Animal Rescue matched her with Kai, a 10-year-old labrador/retriever cross.

While lovable and kind, Kai was severely overweight, weighing in at 173 lb. He was unable to walk far and could not stand for long.

“When I first met Kai, I just thought to myself, ‘What have we got ourselves into?’ I just didn’t know what to do with him,” Heggie says. “I was so scared he was going to have a heart attack.”

The ideal weight for male labradors and retrievers is between 65 and 80 lb.

And so, just as with her patients in cardiac rehabilitation, Heggie knew she had to help Kai adopt a healthier diet and exercise routine.

What began as walks around the house progressed to an underwater treadmill and, eventually, walks at the dog park. A strict diet, exercise, and weekly vet visits, put Kai right on track to a better life.

“I began taking him out three times a day and he loved being outside, even at his heaviest,” Heggie says. “There was so much he wanted to do and he was so focused and determined.”

That focus and determination, coupled with Heggie’s skills in cardiac rehabilitation, has helped the pooch shed 100 lb. and has given him a second chance at life. The canine who could not walk very far is now running with other dogs, playing fetch and enjoying life.

Helping Kai improve his health also helped Heggie in ways she didn’t realize.

“Coming to the dog park and spending time with my dogs is a huge part of my mental health as well as my physical health,” says Heggie. “It’s a great break. No matter how bad your day was, it’s always a great day at the dog park.

“In healthcare, you see amazing things every day. Nothing is impossible. People would just amaze you because they were so determined to meet their goals and Kai was exactly like that.”

Kai’s next venture is training to become a therapy dog.