Veterinary dentist Lisa Milella was used to spending long days performing complicated procedures. Having her hands cramp up was common, but then she started to notice other problems.
“I could no longer activate my car key with my thumb, and another time my legs turned to jelly. I went to the doctor, thinking I had a vitamin B12 deficiency,” Lisa told iNews. After doing brain and spine scans and nerve tests, the accomplished dentist was faced with tragic news, she had motor neuron disease. This disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the transmission of information to the muscles, leading to weakness and muscle wasting of the limbs and difficulties with speech, swallowing and breathing. The average life expectancy with this condition is less than five years.
Instead of letting the disease get the best of her, Lisa knew how she wanted to spend the rest of her time. “I made the decision to close my business and devote the time I had left to treating rescued bears,” she said.
Years earlier Lisa had taken a call from fellow dentist and trustee with the International Animal Rescue, Paul Cassar who asked her for advice on how to repair the teeth of abused “dancing” bears.
While it might not be a common practice in the West, keeping “dancing” bears was once a frequent occurrence in parts of Asia. In order to make these amazing bears “dance,” owners would hammer the animals’ teeth off at the gumline then burn a hole through the muzzle to force a rope lead through. Then handlers force the bears to “dance” on their hind legs, pulling on the painful wound to make them move erratically. Keeping dancing bears has been illegal in India for many years, with the last recorded bear being rescued in 2008, but there is still a need to give the retired animals dental surgery.
Lisa spent months planning the bear’s treatment and then she flew 6,000 miles to International Animal Rescue‘s sanctuary in India with Paul to treat them. They worked for five days to remove broken teeth, infected roots, abscesses, and mouth tumors. “Each bear needed four or five hours’ surgery and we managed to treat 20 of them. It was exhausting but hugely satisfying,” she said.
Since her diagnosis, Lisa has been dedicating her time to helping as many rescued bears as she can, lending her wisdom to International Animal Rescue. On one visit in February of 2015, she returned with a friend to train vets in dental surgery, even though at this time she was using a wheelchair and a ventilator at night to help her breathing.
“Although my health is deteriorating, I’m achieving as much as I can while I have the strength. Helping India’s endangered bears helps keep me going. It’s a comfort to me that I’ve been able to use my skills and experience to treat endangered animals,” the animal hero said.
If you would like to support Lisa’s incredible work training vets at the sanctuary, you can donate here. If you’re feeling inspired by this story, you can also be a hero for animals. Simply by volunteering at your local animal shelter, you can make a difference in the lives of countless animals in your area. Every little bit helps!
Image source: International Animal Rescue/Facebook