Chance of a Lifetime
It was a blistering hot day in June when a man came to my small horse farm in Missouri, asking for some goat’s milk. He needed it for his teenage nephew’s new Quarter Horse filly because she was deathly ill. The man said that two veterinarians had examined the foal and concluded that it would cost thousands of dollars to save her. His nephew didn’t have that kind of money and planned to shoot the foal instead. The uncle told the teenager, “Give me twenty-four hours to try to save her.” I gave him all the goat’s milk I had and offered to help in any way I could. The man said, “You know, this filly just might end up here with you!” I thought he was joking. He wasn’t.
The next day, a truck pulled into my driveway with the three-week-old foal lying on the flatbed, being held by the man’s daughter. The man gently lifted the bright red filly off the truck and laid her on the grass. A makeshift pen was set up around her. It was under a shady tree, just outside my back door, so I could easily check on her every hour, day, and night.
I have multiple sclerosis, which has gotten steadily worse, and I wasn’t looking for a new project when this foal arrived on my doorstep. In fact, just before she got here, my husband Dave and I had decided to sell half of our horses, along with all of our goats and most of our farm birds. I wanted to lessen my work load. Still, I gladly accepted when the man asked me to help save this filly. He emphasized there was no money to pay for any more vet bills. He added, “Nobody expects her to make it through the next day or two.” I took that as my cue to prove everyone wrong.
After the man left, I checked over every inch of the poor creature’s tiny, frail body. She was in horrible shape, with fever sores in her mouth and pressure sores all over one side of her body. Her joints were grotesquely swollen and disfigured by a bacterial infection called neonatal septicemia. She looked like a skeleton, barely covered with skin and clumps of hair. She had a high fever, due to the life-threatening bacteria circulating in her bloodstream. She couldn’t stand up or even lift her head. Her helpless brown eyes were sunken from dehydration, yet there was a twinkle in those eyes that captured my heart. I loved her from the moment I first saw her.
I didn’t own her, but I’d become responsible for her. In those first few hours, I put together a basic medical kit and treated her wounds. She was desperate for nourishment. I searched the Internet and found that goat’s milk is the next best thing to mare’s milk for feeding a foal. So, I milked my goats, put the milk in a bottle with a foal nipple on it and just squirted what I could into the filly’s mouth. She got some of it, but not enough. Finally, out of desperation, I brought my goat Megan over to the filly. I held Megan’s teat to the foal’s mouth and she took to it immediately! She wasn’t strong enough to hold her head up, but with my help, she was able to nurse directly from Megan. She drank until she couldn’t hold anymore. My first hurdle was overcome.
By the next day, my efforts to feed the filly every half-hour were paying off. She seemed better. By the third day, she was able to sit up by herself. I kept reminding myself that she wasn’t mine, but it did no good. I felt like she belonged to me much more than she belonged to the teenage boy who didn’t care whether she lived or died. Her will to live was strong and she deserved to be given a name. I decided to call her Megan’s Chance in honor of Megan, the old white nanny goat who had supplied milk, companionship and the chance for this little angel to live. Chance became her nickname.
Megan would groom Chance just as if she were her own baby. It was amazing and touching to watch an old goat mothering a young filly. Megan would lie down on the grass next to Chance and the two of them would pass the time in quiet contentment. The other animals on the farm also sought to comfort her. The geese and one of my chickens adopted her and stayed next to her most of the time. Our dog, a Yorkie-Pom mix named Pookey, would go up to Chance as she was lying on the ground and whisper into her ear. That seemed to bring a smile to Chance’s face.
As the days wore on, the bond strengthened between Chance and me. She’d whinny when she heard me coming to see her. Just the sound of my footsteps lit a spark in her. Secretly, it warmed my heart to know that she didn’t whinny to anyone else. I was her special mama, and she was my special child. It took me awhile to realize that Chance would enrich not only my life, but also the lives of many people around the world.
I frequent several equine message boards on the Internet where horse lovers and owners get together to visit and trade thoughts on dealing with horse problems. When I first asked for advice about Chance, I had no idea the word of her troubles would spread the way it did. Emails came flooding in to me from people who offered suggestions and words of support and who asked to see photos of her. I started a daily online diary on my Web site, where people could read the latest news about Chance and her struggle to live. I posted new pictures of her almost every day.
All over the world, people were falling in love with this determined little soul. The online horse-loving community watched with great interest as Chance and I experienced our ups and downs from day to day. Thousands shared my joy when Chance began gaining weight and sat up by herself for the first time. People were thrilled as her mouth ulcers and pressure sores healed. And when her fever shot back up and her joints began to swell again, I didn’t cry alone.
There were days when the two of us were extremely tired, yet we kept up the fight. As we would rest together in the grass, I would tell Chance, “You have to keep trying. So many people are hoping and praying and sending their love.” Chance would put her head in my lap as I’d hold her, stroke her and kiss her muzzle. Her lovely eyes were still saying, “I’m not giving up yet, Mama. I’m just resting.”
As news of Chance’s brave struggle spread over the Internet, people wrote to me saying they were doing acts of kindness in her honor. Some helped animals and some helped people needing assistance. More and more lives were indirectly touched by Chance and her courage. I felt so proud that I was able to share this wonderful little spark and watch it grow exponentially. We were all part of a miracle that was spreading.
Chance’s health experienced lots of ups and downs as summer dragged on. Overall, she failed to improve as much as I’d hoped. I knew she needed to see a veterinarian, so I contacted the man who brought her to me and asked that his nephew give her to me legally. He did. At last, Chance was legally mine.
We went to the veterinarian and were told that most foals with this illness die. Only when it’s caught at the very beginning is there any hope of recovery. The bacteria were out of control, destroying Chance’s joints as well as one of her eyes. The veterinarian said that her vital organs would eventually be attacked. It was only a matter of time before Chance would have to be put to sleep.
My goal now became simple. I wanted to help Chance experience the joys of being a horse as much as possible before her time was up. Against all odds, she was soon trying to stand up. The first time she stood, with her body contorted and her legs twisted, I laughed and cried with joy. Then she took her first steps: another milestone! She started to walk more. Several times a day, I would help her to stand and then balance her, as she would stroll all over the yard.
Chance seemed determined to see what the world had to offer her. She was carefully supervised as she met other horses on my farm. She nickered almost uncontrollably the first time she saw them. She quivered with excitement. We were watching yet another miracle in this filly’s life. And through all of this, my health was holding up, which was also miraculous.
Suddenly, at two and a half months old, Chance seemed to grow tired of the fight. She had tasted green grass, enjoyed painless days and made many friends in the other animals and people who often came to visit her. Chance knew what unconditional love felt like and her very existence had spread love and hope throughout the world. Now God seemed to be letting her know it was almost time to come back home to Him.
Chance no longer had a desire to get up and was content to pass the hours and days with her head in my lap. She must have felt my sadness because she would lift her head, time and time again, and nuzzle my face, asking for kisses and hugs. Somehow, though, her eyes let me know that it was okay to let her go.
On Wednesday morning, I made a difficult phone call asking the veterinarian to end Chance’s life the following Saturday. Then I went out and talked with Chance about it, telling her how selfish I was feeling and that I just wasn’t ready to let God have her back yet. But as I was sitting there, a bird landed on the fence post just three feet from us. I turned to get a better look, expecting it to fly away, but it continued to sit there, looking at us. Then I heard the sound of flapping wings getting louder and louder. I looked up to see a flock of geese circling overhead. There was no honking, just the noise of dozens of wings. I sobbed and said out loud, “Okay, God, you can have your angel back. Just please make sure she, too, gets strong beautiful wings.”
Saturday morning at the veterinarian’s office, Chance laid her head in my lap, as she’d done so many times before. She closed her eyes, stretched hard and sighed with contentment. The sedation went into her body, she fell asleep in my arms, and the air was sucked from my lungs as Chance took her last breath. At that moment, I knew she’d awakened in Heaven.
Three days after we had laid Chance to rest under the trees at our pond, I went to visit her grave. On the dirt right above her body was a beautiful perfect feather. God kept His promise. Chance had gotten her wings.