Dog has been Dale’s best friend through brain tumour ordeal

Michael Higginson's winning photograph of his brother Dale Zaporowski with dog Esta.
Michael won first place in the Assistance Dogs and Dogs Charities category in The Kennel Club's Dog Photographer of the Year competition

Michael Higginson's winning photograph of his brother Dale Zaporowski with dog Esta. Michael won first place in the Assistance Dogs and Dogs Charities category in The Kennel Club's Dog Photographer of the Year competition

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WATCHING over Dale Zaporowski protectively, Esta the dog has a strong bond with him and has been the teenager’s unwavering companion throughout his tough life fighting two brain tumours.

Watching over Dale Zaporowski protectively, Esta the dog has a strong bond with him and has been the teenager’s unwavering companion throughout his tough life fighting two brain tumours.

Michael Higginson and brother Dale at the Dog Photographer of the Year Awards in London
Real Life Story - Dale Zaporowski

Michael Higginson and brother Dale at the Dog Photographer of the Year Awards in London Real Life Story - Dale Zaporowski

The award winning photograph captured by Dale’s brother Michael Higginson sums up the loving relationship between boy and dog.

Michael, 27, who lives in Ribbleton, Preston, explains: “When Dale became ill, it was a huge shock and it was a tough time for all the family.

“I am the eldest child while Dale is the youngest and when he was diagnosed, I was at university and I tried to stay strong.

“My winning photograph was taken especially for the Dog Photographer of the Year competition and was inspired by the bond between Dale and one of my parent’s dogs Esta.

Esta the dog with her mum Elsa
Real Life Story - Dale Zaporowski

Esta the dog with her mum Elsa Real Life Story - Dale Zaporowski

“Esta was born into a litter of eight puppies and Dale who was only four at the time watched her come into the world unaware of the role she would take in his life.

“Dale and Esta have always spent a considerable time with each other and their bond grows stronger every day.”

Dale, now 15, who lives in Ashton, Preston, with his parents Jacqui and David, was just six-years-old when he first became poorly and kept being sick and struggling to eat properly.

Despite his parents taking Dale to the doctors eight times in four months and seeing four different doctors, they were told there was nothing wrong with him.

Cat Race and Michael Higginson of Catsdog Photography at the awards
Real Life Story - Dale Zaporowski

Cat Race and Michael Higginson of Catsdog Photography at the awards Real Life Story - Dale Zaporowski

In the end, his mum Jacqui took him to A&E after noticing problems with Dale’s balance and scans revealed he had a brain tumour.

Dale underwent lifesaving surgery to remove the tumour and had 15 months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiotherapy.

At one stage, Dale couldn’t move, speak, see or swallow and his family feared he’d never walk again.

Michael recalls: “Dale’s treatment isolated him from the world he knew and changed his life forever.

Dale with his dog Esta
Real Life Story - Dale Zaporowski

Dale with his dog Esta Real Life Story - Dale Zaporowski

“He was left with brain damage and lost the ability to walk, talk, swallow, move and communicate.”

However, determined Dale has astounded doctors with his recovery and he can now walk with a frame, although he uses a wheelchair as well.

Just as the family thought their ordeal was over, Dale suffered a relapse at the age of 10 and was diagnosed with a second brain tumour in April 2011.

Dale faced chemotherapy to shrink the tumour before more surgery followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy before beginning the long road to recovery once again.

Michael explains: “Slowly, after many years of physio, Dale learnt to walk short distances and use his wheelchair for longer ones.

“His speech eventually came back but Dale now has problems with balance, memory, growth, epilepsy, learning and much more.

Michael Higginson with brother Dale and Esta the dog
Real Life Story - Dale Zaporowski

Michael Higginson with brother Dale and Esta the dog Real Life Story - Dale Zaporowski

“Dale was a ridiculously intelligent little boy before he became ill.

“Dale has still got the same character and is still really smart.”

Dale had a close relationship with the family dogs short haired German Pointers Elsa and Esta even before his diagnosis and since his illness, his bond with Esta has deepened.

Esta was born in the family home to mum Elsa and was born into a litter of eight puppies and was the only one the family kept.

Michael says: “Esta has always been Dale’s unwavering companion and has supported him.

“Just before Dale was diagnosed with the brain tumour, he disappeared along the river where we lived.

“Luckily, my parent’s dogs had followed him.

“My mother was frantically looking for Dale until Elsa, Esta’s mother found my mum and led her to Dale - Esta was by his side as always protectively watching over him.”

Since Dale’s diagnosis and recovery, he and Esta have grown even closer and Esta is Dale’s constant companion.

Michael, who also has brother Daniel and sister Sadie, remembers: “When Dale first came home from hospital, it was Esta who gently sat next to him offering him comfort and support.

“When Dale first came home from hospital, Esta slowly climbed on to his bed to lie down next to him.

“Esta became Dale’s best friend and Dale would often talk to her about his problems.

“Dale missed Esta terribly when he was in hospital and asked if she could be brought in! The feeling was definitely mutual and Esta missed him too.”

Esta instinctively knows Dale needs looking out for and she always stays close to his side and panics when she can’t see him.

Michael says: “Once Dale was well enough to sit in a wheelchair, he began to join Esta on walks again.

“She would stay close to his chair, never running too far ahead and regularly checking that he was all right.

“As his balance developed, Dale had a trike built specially for him to aid him in his recovery.

“This gave him some independence and to this day, Dale loves to ride his trike in the park with Esta by his side.”

Michael says that as he and the rest of his siblings are older, Esta means Dale always has a friend near him.

He says that the connection Esta shares with Dale may even have saved Dale’s life.

Michael explains: “A few years into Dale’s recovery, Dale was asleep in bed and Esta, completely out of character, began to bark loudly.

“No matter what my aunty did, she couldn’t stop Esta barking so she decided to go and see if the noise had woken Dale.

“Dale was awake and a minute later, he had a massive seizure - it was the first one he had. An ambulance was called immediately and he was admitted to hospital.

“If Esta hadn’t barked that night and raised the alarm, Dale wouldn’t have received the medication he needed, I dread to think what could have happened.”

Michael, whose girlfriend Cat Race began CatsDog Photography specialising in taking photographs of dogs four years ago.

CatsDog Photography is based in Samlesbury near Preston but will be re-locating to new studios near Lane Ends, Preston.

Michael is now a partner in the business and is marketing director. Cat won first place in the Puppies category last year in the international competition The Kennel Club’s Dog Photographer of the Year.

Although Michael wasn’t a photographer himself, he decided to enter this year’s Dog Photographer of the Year in the Assistance Dogs and Charities category.

Michael says he was inspired by Dale and Esta’s beautiful relationship.

Michael says: “She never judges him as a disabled 15-year-old boy. To her, he’s just her pal.

“The photograph and the interaction between them is all completely natural.”

Michael was amazed to discover he had won first prize in the Assistance Dogs and Dog Charities category for the photo he took of Dale and Esta. He was awarded a £500 prize for his chosen charity Dogs for Good.

Michael and Cat went to London to collect their awards with Dale. And Cat finished second in the puppy category.

Michael says: “It’s an honour to be able to show the world what a difference a dog can make to someone else’s life.”

Dale Zaporowski with his family and dog Esta
Real Life Story - Dale Zaporowski

Dale Zaporowski with his family and dog Esta Real Life Story - Dale Zaporowski