MODERN MIRACLES – Veterinary specialists offer hope with advanced care options
By Kim Campbell ThorntonUniversal Uclick
The advances in veterinary medicine in just the last couple of decades have been dramatic, and these days many of the same lifesaving options in human medicine are also available to pets, often through skilled veterinary specialists.
Still, the idea that advanced treatments for cancer and other diseases or injuries are too much “to put a pet through” remains a common one, says Dr. Sandy Willis, a veterinarian who specializes in internal medicine.
But Josh, Tessa, Missy and Emma would surely beg to differ. The three dogs and one cat bore mute testimony to the power of veterinary medicine and an owner’s love at the 2010 conference of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, held recently in Anaheim, Calif.
The pets are all survivors — three of cancer, and one of a rare disease called leishmaniasis — thanks to their owners’ observations and perseverance in seeking care, as well as to the treatment they received after being referred to veterinary specialists.
Josh is a perfect example of how far specialty care has come. Just 17 hours after his first surgery to remove a large abdominal mass, the 8-year-old Golden Retriever was running enthusiastically to greet his owner. Josh has since had three more surgeries, plus chemotherapy, and every time it is all the vet techs can do to restrain him so he can recover safely. Dr. Brenda Phillips, a veterinary oncologist, says she has never known a patient who recovered faster than Josh.
Then there’s Emma, whose problems began in 2002 with frequent sneezing and progressed to a bloody nose and other symptoms. A rhinoscopy showed that the 6-year-old cat had nasal lymphoma. Her oncologist, Dr. Mona Rosenberg, told owner Sharon Golding that the average life span after diagnosis of this disease is eight to 10 months, but her longest surviving patient lasted nine years. Golding chose to start Emma on chemotherapy, a regimen that lasted for three years.
Emma is now 14 and has been cancer-free for eight years. Golding has a goal: “We’re going to beat Dr. Rosenberg’s record.”
Linda Hettich can barely hold back Tessa until the signal comes for the dock-diving black Labrador retriever to go airborne. Diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, Tessa had her tumor removed surgically by Dr. Rosenberg and began radiation treatment.
Two weeks after the first treatment, Tessa competed in a dock-diving event and jumped 23 feet, two inches, a personal best. Today, she’s the only Iron Dog — a dock diver that competes in all three divisions of the sport — who is a cancer survivor, and as a therapy dog she is an inspiration to patients at the cancer center where she visits. “Her determination is like none I’ve ever seen,” Hettich says.
Finally, there’s Missy the mystery. If human, her case would probably inspire the writers of the television drama “House,” in which diagnosticians face a new medical puzzle each week. Veterinary internal medicine specialist Dr. Steve Hill says Missy’s mystery ended with a shocking diagnosis: Missy had leishmaniasis, a disease caused by a protozoan organism and most commonly seen in the Mediterranean. It’s so rare in the U.S. that the Centers for Disease Control became involved after the diagnosis was made. There’s no cure, but Missy has responded well to treatment.
“I think you can tell from all the owners who have spoken today how important the partnership is between the primary care vet, the specialty vets and the owners,” says Joy Koda, one of Missy’s owners, along with Jon Rosen. The extent of Missy’s problems didn’t deter either of them.
“We got Missy from the pound when she was probably 2 to 3 years old,” Koda says. “She has enriched our lives incredibly. When it came to taking care of her, we were committed to that.”
While it used to be that veterinary specialists — including internists such as oncologists and cardiologists, and other board-certified veterinarians such as surgeons and dermatologists — were found only at schools and colleges of veterinary medicine, these days most urban centers have specialty groups as well.
Ask your primary care veterinarian if a referral to a specialist can best help your pet.
(Kim Campbell Thornton is a experienced pet-care journalist and member of the PetConnection team. She also writes a regular feature for MSNBC.com.)