Newlyweds scrape together $16,000 to cure dog's cancer

NEW ORLEANS -- Angel's eyes say it all. She has been through hell: cancer, chemo and a bone marrow transplant.

But Angel is a smiling dog. She survived it all because of the tenacity of the two people who love her most and because of the unwavering support of her best friend, Romeo.

It began a little over a year ago, when Angel and Romeo's parents were planning their wedding and, almost simultaneously, found out Angel had B-cell lymphoma.

'The survival rate with chemo alone is 0 to 2 percent,' said Kristie Sullens.

That was completely unacceptable to Johnny and Kristie Sullens. They begged their veterinarian for more options.

So the vet researched treatments around the country. Their one shot for a cure was a canine bone marrow transplant. The only place in the country now doing it in a clinical setting is at North Carolina State University. The cost is $16,000, and that would be after paying for six months of chemotherapy here at home.

This young couple, living on a tight budget, never flinched. They went on with their wedding, with Angel as a flower girl and Romeo as the ring bearer, except he didn't carry any rings. They canceled their rings and canceled their honeymoon. They had a dog to save.

Their only questions was, how long did they have to raise $16,000?

'She said the chemo protocol is six months. We might be able to buy you another month,' said Johnny Sullens. 'So I said, OK, seven months. That's how long we've got.'

And that would begin an odyssey that some might call a miracle unto itself.

They first started an organization called 'Save an Angel.'

'I opened up a checking account for Save an Angel, I called Kristie and said, I opened up a checking account and we are going to fight,' Johnny said.

Kristie started advertising on Craigslist. That led to garage sales.

'We sold everything anything that would go in a garage sale -- $1, $.25, 5 for a dollar, everything,' Kristie said.

'Stereo, tools, bikes, anything we weren't using,'Johnny said.

Meanwhile Angel was going through chemo, and Romeo was with her at every session.

'Every single treatment, everybody knew Romeo. They called him moral support,' Kristie said.

Kristie networked big time on Facebook and asked for Mardi Gras beads to sell.

'This is what we would say: 'You have to ask, you have to believe and then you can receive,'' Kristie said.

And they constantly kept their eye on the goal.

'We had checks on the ceiling written out for $16,000 and we would wake up and visualize,' Kristie said.

They created a web page, but it had a major limitation.

'Unfortunately Mac users couldn't view it because it was flash-based,' Johnny said.

With all their networking, they entered a world they never knew existed -- the animal community, with hundreds of non profits and thousands of people who care about animals.

'Those folks are just amazing fundraisers and they shared every bit of information with us,' Johnny said.

But the clock was ticking and the money was slow to come. They realized they needed a web site.

'So we went to the library, you know, that square building that has books in it that your teachers told you about when you were in school,' Johnny said.

They learned all they could and created Save an Angel.

'Anyone who donated beads, ideas, time, money we would take pictures with Angel and put them on the website and call them Angel's Saints,' Kristie said.

They gave Angel updates and took Angel and Romeo to all the local animal events.

'It was almost as if they knew what was going on,' Johnny said.

Angel, who had been skittish around people and animals, changed.

'All of a sudden she just welcomes every dog who comes toward her, every human being she kissed,' Johnny said. 'Every child that would normally be irritating possibly, it was just like she loved them. She was so positive, so uplifting, she sorta drove us to keep going.'

But time was up, and the Suttons, with Angel and Romeo, drove to North Carolina with $11,000 and a $5,000 loan they had no idea how they would pay back.

But Angel was getting the bone marrow transplant.

Shortly after they arrived they got a phone call from an organization called Riedel and Cody, a group that had just formed to help dogs with cancer. They had seen Angel's story on a canine cancer awareness website.

'They said, 'we want to help. We want to save this girl's life,'' Kristie said. 'We were like, 'thank you!''

Their $5,000 debt was paid.

They had to leave Angel at the clinic for two weeks. It was a long, sad ride home with Romeo, who was depressed.

'He didn't play. He just slept,' Johnny said.

The battle to save Angel was also to save Romeo.

'We were not going to lose one dog. We were going to lose two dogs,' Kristie said. 'You take your best friend away, it was like taking his other half from him.'

They all went back two weeks later.

'They were reunited, they loved each other, kissed up, bumping butts,' Johnny said.

'They got in the car, they crawled in the back, and they laid on top of each other and fell asleep,' Johnny said.

'Something about the two of them, they just complete each other,' Kristie said.

Angel is six months out of her treatment and is cancer free. Johnny and Kristie have never looked back at wedding rings never bought or a honeymoon never taken. They have their family.

They also have a mission. Save an Angel is completing it's 501 c3 non-profit status and it continues to raise money for the next dog who needs $16,000 for a bone marrow transplant.

They have learned much about themselves, about the love of people who love animals and about dogs.

'They live now in the now. Every moment is the greatest moment, and we could really learn something from our dogs by observing that ourselves,' Johnny said.

Part of the mission of Save an Angel is to help guide others who need to raise funds for their pets who face major medical issues. You can find more information here.


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