A mother promised her daughter a puppy to calm her during brain surgery because doctors said ‘she wouldn’t remember anything’ – and now the youngster and her pet dog are competing at Crufts.
Louise Gibbs, from Droitwich Spa in Worcestershire, was terrified when her seemingly healthy daughter Ella Gibbs, then 10, was rushed into emergency brain surgery just 12 hours after having a unexpected seizure.
Doctors suggested that Louise and her ex-husband Mark Gibbs say anything they could to keep their little girl calm as it would likely be completely forgotten during the gruelling 13-hour surgery.
But as she came round, Louise, 51, claims the first thing Ella said was ‘Mum, dad, where’s my white puppy?’. Ella was gifted her eight-week-old puppy Lulu just nine days after she returned home, and the pair became best pals.
The Shih-poo even snuggled up to Ella as she recovered from her surgery and accompanied her when she returned to school.
Six years on, Ella, now 16, and Lulu compete in agility trials together and have even qualified for their first ever Crufts competition next month.
Ella Gibbs from Worcestershire and her dog Lulu with some of their agility prizes and a tennis ball, which Lulu loves. Ella, now 16, underwent brain surgery when she was just 10 and her parents promised her a puppy to calm her down, thinking she would forget
Ella, 10, recovering from her surgery in February 2013. Mother Louise, 51, said her daughter was rushed into emergency brain surgery just 12 hours after having a unexpected seizure
Ella and Lulu doing agility training. The teen, now in Year 11, usually trains with her best friend three days per week in anticipation of Crufts, but as she is studying for her GCSEs she’s had to cut it down to two hours per week
Louise said: ‘The surgical team just said, “Keep her calm, promise her anything because she won’t remember anything because we’ve given her stuff to help her through surgery.
“You can promise her you will fly to the moon, that you’ll go to Florida tomorrow, that you’ll have five puppies – anything”.
‘Ella very quickly said, “I would like a little white puppy”, and that was it. We thought we would hear no more of it.
‘At that point she was struggling to put words together. Because she had major brain surgery we were told that she might not be able to talk or move post-surgery.
Elle and her mother Louise on a trip to Oklahoma, where Ella underwent proton radiotherapy after her brain surgery
Ella receiving proton radiotherapy for a remaining chunk of her tumour in Oklahoma. The family stayed in Oklahoma for three months before returning to the UK in September 2013
Ella recovering from her surgery in February 2013. Her parents thought Ella would forget about their promise to get her a puppy. But the first words she said after he surgery were to ask for a white puppy
‘But she literally just laid there and said, “Where’s my white puppy?”. That was the first thing that came into her mind.’
Lulu came into Ella’s life after she unexpectedly had a seizure at 1am on Saturday 2nd February 2013, and within 12 hours was being prepped to have a left temporal pilocytic astrocytoma cut out of her brain.
After Ella came round from anaesthesia and asked for her dog, Mark drove to pick out a puppy. The pair kept Ella’s spirits up during her recovery by planning what they would name the new dog, and what sort of things she wanted to buy it.
Ella ready to blow the candles during her 11th birthday after she finished radiotherapy. ‘People were telling us we were mad,’ said Louise, ‘but actually it was the best thing we did because this puppy just became the focus of everything’
Ella and Lulu on their first day of agility training. After Ella and Lulu tried out an agility taster session at a fair and loved it, Louise booked them a lesson
Louise, who is a national accounts controller, said: ‘Ella’s diagnosis was very quick and very unexpected. We had all felt knocked sideways by what had happened.
‘A lot of people have a build-up to these situations but we literally were diagnosed and in surgery within 12 hours.
‘She was at home and she had a seizure, which is the equivalent of having a stroke as a 10-year-old. ‘We were rushed to hospital where they put her through a scanner and found a mass.
‘We were transferred to BCH where they confirmed it and we went down to surgery early on Saturday afternoon.
Louise said after her surgery, Ella would lay on the couch with Lulu and instinctively knew to be gentle with her as she regained her strength after surgery
‘The seizure had happened about 1am on Saturday morning. It was that quick.’
But despite friends telling them they were mad to grant their daughter her request so soon into her recovery, Louise has no regrets.
‘The whole dog thing became the focus of getting her well. The minute Lulu came into the house she was always, always with Ella. It was really quite amazing,’ Louise recalled.
‘She used to lie on the sofa with her. If Ella was doing anything Lulu would be a step behind her, and that would be as an eight-week-old puppy.
‘It was very obvious very quickly that they were together. It just happened naturally.
Ella and Lulu in 2019. Mark, Louise’s ex-husband, drove to pick out a puppy and the pair distracted Ella from her grueling recovery by planning what they would name the new dog and what sort of things she wanted to buy it
Louise said: ‘The whole dog thing became the focus of getting her well. The minute Lulu came into the house she was always, always with Ella. It was really quite amazing’
She said: ‘The first time Ella saw Lulu was when she was given her in the kitchen. It was definitely meant to be.
‘That’s one of the amazing things. Of all the things we could have done – as parents we were like “Oh my God, I can’t believe that we’re recovering from this and introducing a puppy into the house’.
‘People were telling us we were mad, but actually it was the best thing we did because this puppy just became the focus of everything. Instead of it being “oh my God I’ve got a poorly daughter,” it became “what are we going to do with Lulu”.’
Lulu is very obedient and is a really sweet dog, said Louise: ‘She would never be naughty or lick on wounds – all the things that a puppy would normally do, Lulu didn’t. She was part of Ella from the word go. It was really sweet’
Ella was the person that Lulu chose out of the family.
‘It was amazing because puppies don’t usually lie on the sofa and Ella was really quite poorly at times and Lulu would lie on top of her,’ Louise explained.
‘She would never be naughty or lick on wounds – all the things that a puppy would normally do, Lulu didn’t. She was part of Ella from the word go. It was really sweet.’
Ella was separated from her new best friend for three months when the family flew out to Oklahoma in the US to have proton radiotherapy on a remaining chunk of the tumour on her brain stem.
But when the treatment was successful and Ella returned to the UK in September 2013, the pair picked up from where they left off without missing a beat.
After Ella and Lulu tried out an agility taster session at a fair and loved it, Louise booked them a lesson at Agility 4 Fun.
Ella posing with Lulu and their winning ribbon after a show. Lulu adapted to Ella, who doesn’t have peripheral vision since her seizure in 2013
Lulu (right) with Okey, Ella’s mother’s dog with some of their winning ribbons after a competition. Ella trains with both dogs but says she prefers training with Lulu
The duo were so in sync that Lulu instinctively adapted to help Ella, who lost her peripheral vision after her seizure, see her as they completed the agility courses – something her mother claims even their trainer can’t explain.
In just one year, the pair were competition-ready and competing in events across the country, with Ella even recently starting to compete with her mother’s two-year-old pooch, Okey, too.
Ella, who is now a Year 11 student, said: ‘Lulu is definitely my best friend. It’s our first ever Crufts – I don’t expect Lulu to do anything really. It’s more that we got there than anything else.
‘We’re so excited. I do feel like I need to try and get Lulu to do well. She’s known at the club as the ‘diva dog’.
‘She’s probably one of the smallest ones there, but all the bigger dogs give in to Lulu all the time. She’s definitely a character and always will be.
Ella recovering from brain surgery in February 2013. Ella was diagnosed with a pilocytic astrocytoma in 2013. This kind of tumour is slow growing and often benign. The tumour caused a brain seizure, the equivalent of a stroke for a 10 year old
Lulu as a puppy on the day she was brought to Ella. Louise said it was ‘meant to be’ between Ella and Lulu and that the puppy chose Ella as her friend
‘She’s a pretty little white fluffy dog but has the attitude of a St Bernard. She rules the roost, and rules the house.
‘If I’m going to a competition, I can’t do something to her that she won’t like otherwise she’ll be in a mood with me.
‘She doesn’t like getting her ears brushed so I have to get mother to brush her ears otherwise she’ll be in a mood with me.
‘I do find it quite challenging not having peripheral vision. My vision is like I am a horse with eye flaps. With other sports such as hockey, I will run into people, run into things.
Lulu with some of her 2018. This cuties has the ‘attitude of a St Bernard,’ Ella said. If Ella crosses Lulu before a competition, the former will be crossed ad act moody
Lulu proudly posing with some of her winnings from Adams Derby Agility competition. Owner Ella says Lulu is a natural and knows just what to do to win a clear round
‘Because of what happened I’m quite clumsy, so I will walk into stuff or knock stuff over and I’ve just learned how to cope with that.
‘But in agility, Lulu is really good. She will always place herself so she’s not in the way.
‘I think she knows I have no peripheral vision because she will always be on my left if she’s running or she’ll get out of the way because she knows.
‘It’s so noticeable because with me running Okey, he’s crazy and he’ll get under my feet and go mad. Lulu will always be calm and in the right place doing the right thing.
Ella and Louise taking a selfie together. ‘As a family we’ve been the luckiest unlucky family,’ sid Louise. She had amazing treatment and now she’s just a normal 16-year-old about to do her GCSEs in the summer
Ella with her mother’s dog Okey (left) and Lulu (right). Ella says it is easier to run with Lulu than Okey, as Lulu knows not to get in the way
‘I didn’t notice she did it until I started running with Okey. Lulu does it as a natural instinct. With Okey I have to be a lot more aware of my surroundings, more than normal.
‘With Lulu it’s just natural. She’ll know what to do. She’s a very good dog because I don’t need to do big gestures to get her to move.
‘She’ll notice from the tiniest little movement. She will know where to go and what to do. I haven’t taught her that.
Ella in a selfie with her mother Louise and Lulu. The Kennel Club Grade 5 Agility student hopes to do her best at Crufts and enjoy the experience again in the future
‘She’s a really consistent dog. In every competition I go to we get a clear round.’
Ella and Lulu usually train three days per week in anticipation of Crufts, but as the teenager is studying for her GCSEs she has had to cut it down to two hours per week.
But the Kennel Club Grade 5 Agility student hopes to do her best at Crufts and enjoy the experience again in the future.
Louise said: ‘We always say as a family we’ve been the luckiest unlucky family. She had amazing treatment and now she’s just a normal 16-year-old about to do her GCSEs in the summer.
‘It could have been a very different scenario. Lulu has been very important, she will continue to be very important – and she knows it.’
What is pilocytic astrocytoma?
Pilocytic Astrocytoma is an often benign, slow growing tumour of the brain or spinal cord. The tumour may take the form of a cyst and usually doesn’t spread to nearby tissues
Symptoms vary depending upon the size and location of the tumor. Most symptoms result from increased pressure on the brain and include headaches, nausea, vomiting, balance problems, and vision abnormalities
The cause for Pilocytic Astrocytoma is unknown
It most commonly occurs in children and young adults, and in people with Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), a genetic condition that causes tumours to grow along your nerves
It also affects people that are predisposed to cancer development and people who suffer from Tuberous sclerosis (a genetic disorder characterized by the growth of numerous noncancerous (benign) in many parts of the body
Pilocytic astrocytomas are typically sporadic, occurring by chance in individuals with no history of the condition in the family
Source: Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center