MANCHESTER — Sarge the dog is a canine muscle-head, a 120-pound puppy unaware that he is not lap-size.
His absent-minded, gleeful swipe of a tail can clear a dining room of chairs. One drooly lick leaves a face wet and hair dripping.
The FedEx man pencils in an extra 15 minutes on his schedule when he delivers to the house where Sarge lives. The pooch likes to inspect by sniffing the contents of the truck, then sit for a while in the cab.
Where Sarge decides to stay, said his owner, Myrl Sizemore, he stays.
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And on Jan. 14, Sarge stayed with Sizemore.
It's still a little tough for Sizemore, 50, to tell the story. He had a massive heart attack and fell face-first to the ground on a freezing winter night. It seems unbelievable that he was "dead as a hammer" in the driveway until Sarge helped revive him and got him safely into the house.
Sizemore had no idea that he had a heart condition. He had been diagnosed with diabetes a few years earlier, but this cholesterol was good, and he kept trim working as an electrician. He just thought he had a persistent case of bronchitis.
Leslie Sizemore credits Sarge with restarting her husband's heart. Sarge licked her husband and shoved his nose between his shoulder blades.
Myrl Sizemore said Sarge stood next to him and he groggily used the dog as a bench to get off the ground and into the house. When Leslie saw his pallor and bloodied face, she wanted to take him to the hospital, but he refused.
The next day, Leslie said, he was gray and too weak to fight her. In quick succession, he was taken to nearby Manchester Memorial Hospital, then ARH Hazard, where doctors said Sizemore needed a heart transplant, then to University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital.
But at UK, Dr. Vincent Sorrell, assistant chief of cardiovascular medicine and director of advanced cardiovascular imaging, had a hunch. Standard imaging tests had showed Sizemore's heart was scarred and barely moving. But Sorrell wondered whether the heart might be hibernating or conserving its energy and effort as a means of preservation.
A contrast-enhanced cardiac MRI showed Sizemore's heart muscles weren't still because they were scarred. The high-tech image showed they were resting but viable.
Instead of needing a transplant, Myrl Sizemore needed a triple bypass.
With the blood flow restored after surgery, his heart started to function more effectively.
"It is the brilliance of the heart tissue," Sorrell said, "that it chose to keep the engine running and idle" until blood flow increased.
The Sizemores can't say enough good things about Sorrell and the other UK doctors. They also now hold a special place for Sarge.
Myrl Sizemore admits there were times before last January when his wife had to talk him down when he was angry at Sarge. The tail-wagger often created chew toys from things as valued and varied as an ATV seat, a patio umbrella and the running boards off an SUV.
And don't get Sizemore started about the challenge of bathing the mega-dog in a horse trough bought just for that purpose.
Sorrell said the impact of Myrl Sizemore's fall might have jump-started his heart.
But the Sizemores prefer to thank God for finding a way to use their rambunctious rover to give them more time together.
And from now on, no matter what Sarge eats, breaks, licks or hijacks, Myrl said, "I wouldn't take nothing for him."