A Poem of Hope
by Susan E Gingrich
We are extraordinary cat lovers, you and me,
A world without FIP, we dream to see.
Without FIP, we wouldn’t have become friends,
Neither would we know, that FIP will surely end.
In FIP research, to solve the mystery, we will fund,
Until our evil enemy FIP, is finally done.
Thank you dear friend for all you do.
And, may God Bless your fur babies, your family, and you!
Bria was a nine month old Birman kitten who died from FIP in April, 2005. Bria had the good fortune to live with Susan Gingrich and her husband, James Shurskis, in Harrisburg, PA. Susan is a sister of Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and founder of the Center for Health Transformation. The Center provided a generous contribution to establish the Bria Fund. In 2008, the first Bria Fund projects were announced.
In November 2005, the Winn Feline Foundation announced the creation of the Bria Fund to accept donations for feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) research.
Bria’s Memorial Service Eulogy
Dear Little Bria,
It seems you were only with us for a second.
But, what a time it was.
You were an angel, at least most of the time.
You played with great energy.
You ate with even more enthusiasm.
Despite knowing very well that you were all cat,
sometimes we saw a canine side of you.
We are sorry for the pain you endured towards the end of your time.
you know we would have done anything to keep you a little longer.
But god had other plans for you,
so he took your little paw and took you to a better place.
Bria Maria, you are healthy again, playing,
and best of all eating all the things you like, including lots of whipped cream.
We will hold you precious in our hearts,
until the day we are happily reunited in heaven.
Bria we love you.
By Susan E. Gingrich
My husband Jim and I have no children. Our cats, Angel and Sinta, are the closest resemblance to the kids we never had. Both of them have medical problems. Angel, age 11, has early renal failure, and Sinta, who’s 13, has a recurring Fibrosarcoma on her face. Although they are both doing well at this time, they are both also aging. They are the best of companions. Due to the eventuality that one of them will leave us, Jim and I thought it would be an opportune time to add a kitten to our family.
Because Angel was such a delight, we decided on another Birman female. Birmans look like a long haired Siamese with the same variety of colored points. In addition, they have white mitten appearing marks on each paw. They are very sweet and quiet felines. After we made the decision to get another kitty, we waited about a year for her.
Bria was born on July 12, 2004. She was a Lynx Blue Point Birman, and she was gorgeous. Her registered name was Brieanna Jamie, Bria for short. We brought our little furry bundle of joy home the Friday before Thanksgiving. She fit in right away, as if she had always lived with the Gingrich-Shurskis household. Sinta wanted nothing to do with Bria. Bria would chase Angel, who was afraid of her. But, after a month or so, all was fine with the three felines.
The first Veterinary examination went well, and Bria was deemed very healthy. She was seen a few weeks later, along with her sisters, because they had upper respiratory infections simultaneously. Subsequent trips for nail trims weren’t quite as peaceful as earlier visits. Bria decided that she did not like anything about the Veterinary office. She was feisty, and deemed a 5 out of 10 for difficulty by the staff. I suspect it was the Lynx breed in her that accounted for that characteristic.
Bria was great fun. At times, we thought she might have a species identification problem because she had canine characteristics. Bria had her favorite ball. She chased it across the kitchen floor and down the steps. Then, she would retrieve it in her teeth and return it to be thrown again. Bria also sat by the kitchen table when we ate dinner, and would beg for food. She had the best appetite of any cat I’ve ever known. Bria also had a sweet tooth; whipped cream and jelly were her favorites.
When Bria was six months old, she returned to the Veterinarian to be spayed. She came home in a cute Victorian collar of a lovely blue hue that perfectly matched her eyes. Despite her distaste for the collar and its inconvenience, Bria resumed playing and eating as enthusiastically as ever.
About a month after the surgery, I noticed that Bria appeared to be breathing from her abdomen. Her energy level was greatly diminished, and she wasn’t playing with her ball.
Her appetite was still excellent. I thought she may have another cold, so Jim took her to the Vet. At that time, Bria checked out fine. The decreased energy level and abdominal breathing continued. When taking Sinta for her cancer re-check examination, I mentioned my observations concerning Bria to the Vet. She was concerned that the symptoms might be related to a diaphragmatic hernia. Bria was scheduled for x-ray studies later in the week. Bria also had a barium study completed with the x-rays.
The status call from my Vet expressed great concern. Bria definitely didn’t have a hernia. But, the studies detected a great deal of fluid in one side of Bria’s chest cavity. With my permission, a fluid sample was extracted and sent to a lab for analysis. At that time, my Vet relayed that she suspected that it was either Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) or a small vascular tear causing the fluid. It would take several days for the lab report.
I brought Bria home that evening somewhat in a daze. How could this be happening to my healthy dear little baby. We had bought her from a reputable breeder, paying a considerable price for her. I knew nothing about FIP or other potential causes of Bria’s thoracic fluid. For several days, Jim and I researched the issue. What we found was not encouraging. The possibility of FIP was especially horrifying.
Early the next week, our Vet called with the lab results. The fluid contained a great deal of protein. There is no totally accurate test for FIP, but the results were in line with a diagnosis of FIP. Our Vet relayed that the prognosis for FIP was poor. There was no cure; cats with the fluid wet form of FIP succumb to the illness quickly. Because Bria was still eating so well, I asked the doctor what we could do to give Bria a quality life for as long as possible. She said that she would consult with another Vet and get back to me. Unfortunately, the day after I spoke with her, my Vet broke her foot and was out of the office indefinitely.
Another Vet temporarily took over Bria’s case. She recommended a consultation with a specialist in Internal Medicine. I took Bria to see him, and she underwent an echocardiogram to rule out a cardiac problem causing the fluid. Her heart checked out fine. The Doctor inquired if we had done the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on the thoracic fluid. We hadn’t. He said the test would probably be positive, but he advised testing her. Our Veterinarian removed more fluid and sent a sample for a PCR analysis. Again we waited, anticipating the worse. To our utter amazement and delight, the PCR test came back negative for the FIP virus!
Bria still had fluid in her chest, although new x-rays indicated the fluid level was decreasing. She remained fairly inactive and continued the abnormal breathing. Her appetite was decreasing, although she was eating with encouragement. If it wasn’t FIP, we had to find out what was causing the symptoms. Following our Vet’s recommendation, we took Bria to the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, where she was admitted. During the next several days, Bria was the subject of many tests to determine the cause of her illness. After all the tests, enlarged kidneys, renal failure, anemia and, plural effusion were confirmed. Feline Infectious Peritonitis was the tentative causative diagnosis. The Veterinary Resident assigned to Bria advised us to come pick up Bria as soon as possible, because she didn’t have long to live. She knew Bria would be happier at home.
Heartbroken, Jim and I brought Bria home on Monday evening. She was incontinent, obviously extremely weak and in pain, groaning periodically. Although she willingly drank a little water, she would not eat. I knew that was Bria’s way of telling us that she had enough. We made the difficult decision to end her suffering the following evening.
We spent Tuesday with her. We talked to her, and I sang to her and brushed her. Jim took a nap with her lying on his chest, and he took her outside in his arms to hear the birds and feel the breeze one more time. When it was time, we took her to the Vet’s where our darling nine month old kitten died a quiet and peaceful death. After a brief ceremony, we buried her in a place of honor in our yard. The stone marking her grave says, “Beloved Bria So Small So Sweet So Soon”. We didn’t have her in our lives very long, but we treasured every minute with Bria.
Unfortunately, Bria’s sad story is not unique. FIP is a problem worldwide. It affects not only domestic cats, but some of the wild cat species as well. Primarily infecting cats under 2 and over 14, FIP is a cruel and deadly killer. Despite years of research, there is no reliable vaccine to prevent it, no definitive test for it, and no cure. Cats with FIP die.
Unfortunately, because there is no true test for FIP, some cats without the disease are also needlessly euthanized.
Research dollars directed to FIP are not sufficient. Because, FIP is not widespread, most cat lovers don’t know about it. There has been great progress with other feline illnesses. vaccines, tests and treatment. With greater public recognition of FIP, and the devastation and sadness it brings to families and breeders with infected cats, much needed additional research dollars could result.
Experiencing Bria’s life and death from FIP changed Jim and my lives forever. In Bria’s memory, we approached the Winn Feline Foundation to establish the Bria Fund for FIP Research. Thanks to the generosity of the Center for Health Transformation Foundation, the Fund was created. We hope that, through the Bria Fund, FIP research will advance, and someday kittens, cats, owners, families and breeders will not have to go through the sadness and heartbreak of FIP. In honoring her, Bria and her spirit will never be forgotten.