VOLUME 22, NUMBER 1 // SPRING 2021
Stepping into the role of dean of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) in the midst of a pandemic brought with it a set of unique challenges unlike any I’ve faced in my 34 years as a higher education faculty member and administrator. Fortunately, I was not completely new to the college, having spent my first 28 years at Texas A&M University in the CVMBS. However, although I was only gone for six years serving in other administrative capacities for Texas A&M, the CVMBS had changed immensely in the time I was away. As I reacquainted myself with the college and its new faces, the new programs, and all of the new goals, I saw a motivated, dedicated, hardworking group of people who have a passion for all of the things that sit at the core of our college: education, research, service, science, medicine, and improving the lives of both animals and human beings. I’ve seen those traits in the faculty members who have worked to modify their curricula, learn new technology, and find creative ways to engage their students; in the students who have had to acclimate to a hybrid format and navigate that new technology, all while learning the same rigorous material; in the staff, who have been here to so diligently support—and sometimes lead—the college’s activities in what has seemed to be an ever-changing situation; and in those who work in our Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, who have had to juggle uncertainty as essential employees while caring for both their patients and the students. They’ve done all of this while working from home, or helping ensure their children kept up with their school work (also from home), or serving as caretakers for other loved ones, or even grappling with the fear, isolation, and loss that so many have felt during this time. The passion and drive our faculty, staff, and students have displayed in the midst of all of the uncertainty have surely been wonderful things to behold. As we’ve taken moments to appreciate each other in these ways, many more silver linings have become readily apparent, and this edition of CVMBS Today pays homage to that effort, that resilience, and that commitment to service above self that are hallmarks of Texas A&M. I hope that as you read through the stories shared here that you will feel the same pride and appreciation I feel in knowing that as Aggies (whether by degree or in spirit) we’re all a part of something that is bigger than any one person—something that is truly making a difference in the lives of so many others.
JOHN AUGUST Dean, College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences
2 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
IN TIMES OF CHANGE
Dean’s Message............................................................................. 2
ACADEMICS First Class....................................................................................... 6 In The Thick Of It.......................................................................... 10 Coming Together In A Crisis....................................................... 12 An Odyssey Abroad.................................................................... 15
IMPACTS What Are The Odds?................................................................... 18 Collaborating Against A Common Enemy................................22 Setting A New Standard............................................................. 26 A Labor Of Love...........................................................................30
LEADERS Seeing The Bigger Picture..........................................................36 Integrative Initiatives.................................................................. 42 Forging New ‘Paths’.....................................................................44
HOSPITAL A Pig In A Pickle............................................................................48 On The Cutting-Edge...................................................................50 The Fight of His Life..................................................................... 52
The ‘Veteran’ Veterinarian..........................................................56 Aggieland In The Rio Grande.....................................................60 From Fouls & Balls To Foals & Bulls..........................................64
GIVING Bonded By Bravery..................................................................... 67 In Memory of Dimitri Del Castillo: Honoring A Hero.........68 Help For K-9 Heroes: Support in Spirit And Service.......... 71 Gary Sinise Foundation: A Patriotic Partnership............... 74
IN MEMORIAM.......................................................................... 78
Vol. 22, No. 1
ON THE COVER: Lilly and veterinary technician Jill Jarvis (Photo by Michael Kellett)
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 3
COLLEGE ADMINISTRATION DEAN Dr. John R. August EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN Dr. Kenita S. Rogers ’86
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Jennifer G. Gauntt WRITERS: Courtney Adams Aubrey Bloom ’07 Melissa Espinoza ’14 Dorian Martin ’06 Megan Myers ’19 Margaret Preigh EDITORIAL ASSISTANT: Marissa Vargas ’19 ART DIRECTION & DESIGN: Christopher A. Long PHOTOGRAPHERS: Michael Kellett ’91 Brian Wright CORRESPONDENCE ADDRESS: CVMBS Today Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences Texas A&M University 4461 TAMU College Station, TX 77843-4461 vetmed.tamu.edu CVMBS Today is published by the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences for alumni and friends. We welcome your suggestions, comments, and contributions to content. Contact us via email at email@example.com. A reader survey is available online at: tx.ag/CVMBSTodaySurvey. Permission is granted to use all or part of any article published in this magazine, provided no endorsement of a commercial product is stated or implied. Appropriate credit and a tear sheet are requested.
ASSOCIATE DEAN, PROFESSIONAL PROGRAMS Dr. Karen K. Cornell ASSOCIATE DEAN, RESEARCH & GRADUATE STUDIES Dr. Michael Criscitiello ASSOCIATE DEAN, UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION Dr. Elizabeth Crouch ’91 ASSOCIATE DEAN, GLOBAL ONE HEALTH Dr. Gerald Parker Jr. ’77 INTERIM ASSISTANT DEANS, HOSPITAL OPERATIONS Dr. Susan Eades Dr. Jonathan Levine Dr. Ramesh Vemulapalli ASSISTANT DEAN, FINANCE Ms. Belinda Hale ’92 DEPT. HEAD, VETERINARY INTEGRATIVE BIOSCIENCES Dr. Todd O’Hara DEPT. HEAD, VETERINARY PATHOBIOLOGY Dr. Ramesh Vemulapalli DEPT. HEAD, VETERINARY PHYSIOLOGY & PHARMACOLOGY Dr. Larry J. Suva DEPT. HEAD, LARGE ANIMAL CLINICAL SCIENCES Dr. Susan Eades DEPT. HEAD, SMALL ANIMAL CLINICAL SCIENCES Dr. Jonathan Levine SENIOR DIRECTOR, DEVELOPMENT (TEXAS A&M FOUNDATION) Mr. Larry Walker ’97 CHIEF OF STAFF Ms. Misty Skaggs ’93
ENGAGE WITH US @tamuvetmed
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY & ASSISTANT CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER Mr. Kris Guye DIRECTOR, COMMUNICATIONS, MEDIA, & PUBLIC RELATIONS Ms. Jennifer G. Gauntt
4 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
COLLEGE DIRECTORY COLLEGE OF VETERINARY MEDICINE & BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES Texas A&M University | 4461 TAMU College Station, TX 77843-4461 vetmed.tamu.edu DEAN’S OFFICE & ADMINISTRATION 979.845.5051 ADMISSIONS 979.845.5051 BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES PROGRAM 979.845.4941 DEVELOPMENT & ALUMNI RELATIONS 979.845.9043 CVMBS COMMUNICATIONS 979.845.1780 CONTINUING EDUCATION 979.845.9102 GRADUATE & RESEARCH STUDIES 979.845.5092 GLOBAL ONE HEALTH 979.845.8612 PUBLIC RELATIONS 979.862.4216 VETERINARY INTEGRATIVE BIOSCIENCES 979.845.2828 VETERINARY PATHOBIOLOGY 979.845.5941 VETERINARY PHYSIOLOGY & PHARMACOLOGY 979.845.7261 SMALL ANIMAL CLINICAL SCIENCES 979.845.9053 LARGE ANIMAL CLINICAL SCIENCES 979.845.9127 VETERINARY MEDICAL TEACHING HOSPITAL ADMINISTRATION 979.845.9026 SMALL ANIMAL HOSPITAL 979.845.2351 LARGE ANIMAL HOSPITAL 979.845.3541
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 5
BIMS freshman Faith Lass stands with Alexis Villareal and Julia Gault as they display artwork they created from sulcata tortoise footprints.
6 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
“All three of the Aggie ACHIEVE students love animals and they’ve never seen these types of things before. After 20-something years of teaching, I enjoy doing something that’s just fun.” - DR. JAMES HERMAN
Story by MEGAN MYERS While learning about the draft horses, and in all of their other Animals in Society classes, the Aggie ACHIEVE students are given a new perspective on the various roles working animals can play in their lives.
EXPANDING INCLUSIVITY AND ANIMAL APPRECIATION
The Animals in Society course was created by Dr. James Herman, a clinical professor in the CVMBS’ Department of Physiology & Pharmacology (VTPP). “I was the chair for the university’s undergraduate curriculum committee when they started this new program called Aggie ACHIEVE,” Herman said. “I thought it was something that we at the college could help with, because I’ve worked with people with varying disabilities and they usually find animals so captivating.” To promote an inclusive community on campus, all Aggie ACHIEVE courses are conducted with a combination of
HOSPITAL IN MEMORIAM
When the students first saw the two massive, blackas-night Percheron draft horses, their faces filled with excitement and joy. Some of them had never interacted with a horse and they couldn’t wait to approach the gentle giants. These young adults were visiting the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) as members of Aggie ACHIEVE, a program at Texas A&M University for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Aggie ACHIEVE, a four-year postsecondary education program, allows young adults with IDD to pursue their interests, have a genuine college experience, participate in on- and off-campus internships, and earn a Certificate in Interdisciplinary Studies from Texas A&M University that will aid them in applying for jobs. In fall 2020, the CVMBS began offering the trailblazing course Animals in Society as part of the program, setting new standards for inclusivity as the first veterinary college in the United States to offer a course for students with IDD. The draft horses Raven and Rook visited the college in September for one of the course’s weekly class sessions. Their owners, Doug and Debbie Halford, are members of the Texas Draft Horse and Mule Association and regularly give draft horse demonstrations. The lesson began with the students taking a few minutes to pet and brush the horses while the Halfords discussed draft horse care and the history of their use in farming and war. Afterwards, the Halfords showed how they prepare the horses to demonstrate their impressive strength, and the class ended with the students riding a sled pulled by the horse team.
The college’s new Animals in Society course is designed to provide engaging experiences and valuable learning opportunities for students with disabilities enrolled in Texas A&M’s Aggie ACHIEVE program.
Debbie Halford teaches Aggie ACHIEVE students about draft horses.
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 7
ACHIEVE students and traditional undergraduates, with differing requirements for each set of students. Animals in Society currently has six students enrolled, three of whom are members of Aggie ACHIEVE. “All three of the Aggie ACHIEVE students love animals and they’ve never seen these types of things before,” Herman said. “After 20-something years of teaching, I enjoy doing something that’s just fun.” For each class, Herman covers a new subject related to animal history, working animals, or animal care, with teaching assistance from veterinary technicians Mandy Zachgo and Lisa Roberts-Helton. Topics include the history of animal domestication, animal first aid, and the various types of working dogs and the important roles they play in our society. “It’s a great experience for them and it’s actually great for us, too, because we get more people thinking about how animals are not just pets—they can be workers,” Herman said. “If these students see a working dog, they now know that the dog is doing a job and that it’s not a pet. “I’m trying to give these students the opportunity to have a more expanded view of working animals and to have a greater understanding of these animals that they’re likely to encounter in everyday life,” he said.
Brianna Long holding George, the tortoise
8 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
Typically, lessons include an interactive, in-person experience for the students, like the draft horse demonstration. The class also has received visits from the Texas A&M police explosive detection K-9s Jackie and Tyson and has visited the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team response hub and the Texas A&M Winnie Carter Wildlife Center. During one visit to the Wildlife Center, the students took a tour to learn about the exotic species housed there, and then created toys for the animals out of pumpkins. “The students made holes in pumpkins with melon ballers and stuffed the pumpkins with grapes and banana pieces for the herbivores and pieces of meat for the exotic cats,” said Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, director of the Winnie Carter Wildlife Center. “It was educational for them and they enriched the animals’ lives. I think they enjoyed watching the animals try to get the hidden food items; so, overall, it was a great success. “With this group of students, they seem to really like animals, in general,” she said. “They were delighted to see the animals and Lisa Roberts-Helton reports they really loved our six white-tailed fawns that we’ve been bottle raising and that those were their favorites.”
PROVIDING NEW OPPORTUNITIES Unlike most Aggie ACHIEVE courses that are developed from an already-existing undergraduate course, Herman chose to create a brand new class for the program, which then had additional requirements added for the undergraduates enrolled. “The undergraduates have to do research projects, while the Aggie ACHIEVE students will identify an animal-related agency, like K9s4COPs, and do a report on it at the end of the semester,” Herman said. “Dr. Herman approached the Aggie ACHIEVE program about designing a class with our students in mind,” said Dr. Olivia Hester, the program director for Aggie ACHIEVE. “It’s not every day that an instructor approaches the program about including our students in their classes. “Each of the three Aggie ACHIEVE students currently enrolled in Animals in Society have stated that it has been their favorite course so far,” she said. “The hands-on experiences of this course have also made the students want to explore possible careers working with animals. I think Dr. Herman sees the value of inclusive classrooms for not only students with disabilities but for other students in the course as well.” The goal of Aggie ACHIEVE is that after completion, the students will be prepared to find and succeed in jobs that match their strengths and interests. “A fair number of the students in Aggie ACHIEVE are very
ACADEMICS IMPACTS LEADERS HOSPITAL
Aggie ACHIEVE students Julia Gault, Alexis Villareal, and Matthew Carrizal with Raven and Rook STUDENTS
“The hands-on experiences of this course have also made the students want to explore possible careers working with animals. I think Dr. Herman sees the value of inclusive classrooms for not only students with disabilities but for other students in the course as well.”
- DR. OLIVIA HESTER
interested in working at a veterinary clinic at some point in their life, so my goal for next semester is to begin to set up internships with a technician for them,” Herman said. Julia Gault, an Aggie ACHIEVE freshman enrolled in Animals in Society, hopes to work as a veterinary assistant after she completes the program. She chose to take this class to learn more about animals. According to her, the course has confirmed her desire to work with animals and has taught her information that will be extremely helpful in her future job. “The class is so much fun,” Gault said. “I really love it. Dr. Herman is awesome.” ■
Aggie ACHIEVE students with Cooper, the kangaroo, at the Winnie Carter Wildlife Center
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 9
Taking a course on Risk & Crisis Reporting in the midst of a pandemic gave graduate students in the Science & Technology Journalism program a new and unique perspective on the field. Story by MARGARET PREIGH The COVID-19 crisis has changed the way many people interact with news sources—some are glued to their screens, waiting for the next update, while others may try to avoid building additional anxiety. Dr. Barbara Gastel, a professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) who leads the college’s Science and Technology Journalism (STJR) master’s program, took the former approach as she led a group of students through the pandemic with a mindful analysis of the media and institutional responses that shaped their experience and knowledge of these times. Gastel’s Risk & Crisis Reporting course is designed mainly to help graduate students learn to communicate with various audiences about risks and crises. Assignments include keeping journals that describe and evaluate communications in this realm, doing written projects, and giving presentations. The course emphasizes current realworld examples. In January, when this year’s offering of the course began, COVID-19 was not yet a crisis in the United States. By late March, however, teaching at Texas A&M moved online because of the crisis—and analyzing organizational and media responses to COVID-19 became a major focus of the course. Students explored aspects of the subject in their final projects, and guest speakers addressed the topic. Though Gastel has taught this course several times before, she says last year’s experience was particularly memorable.
10 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
“I always joke that every time I give this course there is some kind of crisis or emergency that’s going on in real time that we use examples from,” Gastel said. “In other years, it’s been things like a wildfire or flood or earthquake. This year with COVID-19, there has been a lot to do.” Gastel said the students seemed to take a special interest in the course material, as it applied to their careers and personal lives now more than ever. “I’d say that students were exceptionally engaged,” she said. “It’s one thing if they’re doing the final project on a case study of a crisis that occurred in a different place at a different time. It’s another thing when they’re doing a case study on something that’s happening here and now.” Justin Agan, a graduate student in the STJR program, credits the course for keeping him well-informed in the face of a global pandemic. “I definitely paid a lot more attention to COVID-19 than I would have normally,” Agan said. “I don’t like to give myself unnecessary worry or stress. This class forced me to engage with it, and actually pay attention to it a little more closely.” Sarah Allen, another STJR graduate student, also thinks that taking this course made her a more informed consumer of media during the crisis. “I’m more conscious of what I’m reading,” Allen said. “Sometimes, I very passively flip through the news and just absorb what I see. Now, I look at it and I’m like, ‘Is that really true? Or is that all the evidence that is there? I should look into that more. I wonder why they’re reporting on this. I wonder why they’re not reporting on this other aspect of the situation.’” These aspects are among the reasons Allen says many students and scientists, beyond those interested in the field of journalism, could benefit from such a class.
- DR. SHAWN BASINGER
STUDENTS GIVING IN MEMORIAM
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 11
Barbara Gastel, MD, MPH Professor of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences Coordinator, MS Program in Science & Technology Journalism
Veterinary Public Health and Epidemiology M.S. program, says that this course changed his perspective on the crisis and helped him place the situation in context. “I believe that taking this course in the middle of a pandemic altered my perceptions of it. I was not sure how serious the pandemic really was before I started digging into it more in Dr. Gastel’s class,” Basinger said. “I kept trying to compare COVID-19 with diseases that had higher case fatality rates instead of looking at how much easier it was for this disease to spread into the population, affect more people, and cause more problems than the first disease I compared it to.” Basinger is a veterinarian in the U.S. Army and hopes to take his experiences from this course into his service to our nation if he ever needs to brief a commander in the military about similar events. Gastel herself has found teaching this course in the face of a pandemic to be valuable in observing how resilient her students and others are to logistical changes. “I have learned that people are really adaptable,” Gastel said. “Sometimes we’re set in our ways, whether it be about how we feel is the right way to teach or what brand of orange juice we want from the grocery store, but recently, I’ve seen a lot of adaptability.” Although the pandemic has been a difficult time for many, both professionally and personally, Gastel has also found hope in seeing the academic and journalistic communities come together to keep the public safe and informed. “I think a great lesson is seeing the cooperation and collaboration and community spirit,” Gastel said. “At the CVMBS, elsewhere at Texas A&M, and elsewhere in this community, I’ve really been impressed at how everybody has been cooperating in the situation.” ■
As faculty at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS), we try to take advantage of teachable moments. The COVID-19 pandemic has yielded countless such moments. Some led to a summer 2020 graduate course on COVID-19 communications. In spring, when the pandemic arrived, I was teaching a course on risk and crisis reporting. This course includes discussing communications about current crises. In 2020, much of this discussion regarded COVID-19. After the semester, much remained to discuss. Meanwhile, students were seeking more summer coursework, as the pandemic had decreased other options. And two students were embarking on projects to help show how the CVMBS had adapted to remote learning during the pandemic. A way existed to assist in all these regards. It was a directed studies course, designed to meet students’ individualized interests, on COVID-19 communications. Dr. Nicola L. Ritter (director, Center for Educational Technologies), who helped oversee the projects on remote learning, collaborated with me on the course. Four science journalism graduate students and a veterinary epidemiology graduate student enrolled. As well as discussing assigned and other communications in class, each student did a project. Project topics included, in addition to adjustment to online learning, aspects of environmental and biopharmaceutical communications related to COVID-19. One student prepared a guide on risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus from animals to humans. Graduate coursework offers chances for students and faculty to learn together. I learned much from the students’ projects, and I hope the course took good advantage of teachable moments provided by COVID-19.
“I think it would be really transformative for any student to take a science communication course and to realize what their role is as a scientist,” Allen said. “It’s not just their job to research and publish the information but also to share it with other people outside of academia.” The utility of this material during a global pandemic was recognized as Gastel was able to offer COVID-19 Communications, a directed studies course over the summer. Dr. Shawn Basinger, a graduate student in the
“I believe that taking this course in the middle of a pandemic altered my perceptions of it. I was not sure how serious the pandemic really was before I started digging into it more in Dr. Gastel’s class.”
Second-year veterinary students practice suturing on synthetic models as their professor watches via Zoom.
As COVID-19 spread across the U.S., CVMBS faculty shifted the DVM curriculum to an online-only learning environment; what they didn’t expect was for distance learning to bring them, and their students, closer together. Story by AUBREY BLOOM Moving a class online would typically take months, if not years, of research and planning to make sure the quality of the course matches up to the in-person experience. But COVID-19 didn’t give the faculty and staff of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) months or years; it gave them days. In less than two weeks, all teaching, from undergraduate lectures to veterinary surgery labs, were taken online. Faculty and students had to learn new platforms and use their creativity to solve logistical issues and overcome one of the most difficult challenges the college has faced.
A NEW PERSPECTIVE Professor Dr. Audrey Cook found that teaching online has brought her closer to students in ways she hadn’t expected. “For some of the big online classes, because they have 130 students logged in, we tell them not to use their cameras to
12 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
not slow down the broadband,” Cook said. “But at the end (of the lecture) I say, ‘If you are there with your dog, your cat, your pet, or your kid, turn on your camera for a second so we can meet your family.’” Suddenly, her screen fills with the faces of her students introducing their children and waving their pets’ paws at the camera. “That was actually really touchingly intimate, intimate in a way that we don’t usually get when we’re standing in a dark lecture hall with 130 students with their laptops open and they’re typing away and I’m plodding through a lecture I’ve given maybe 10 times,” she said. “It makes me very aware that these are people with families and worries. For me, that was a really powerful teaching moment.” In addition to finding new ways to connect professors and students, the shift to online teaching has shown faculty members the possibilities available to enhance their teaching with technology. Cook also noticed that being forced to social distance and stay at home has encouraged many students to embrace the opportunity to focus on their education. “I think they’re hungrier for knowledge because they’re isolated,” she said. “I’ve had loads more questions during my sessions than I normally get. I’m hoping that this habit they’ve
“They have to formulate problems of the patient, provide differentials for the problems, list general methods to assess those problems, and determine what basic supportive care they would provide to the patient.” - DR. MARK JOHNSON
Fourth-year veterinary student Rachel Bowles and Benelobe
HOSPITAL STUDENTS GIVING
Second-year veterinary students practice suture patterns.
Normally, whoever is leading the class will walk around to check in with the groups or answer questions. As a result of that need, they’re not only using Zoom as a large group but are successfully utilizing its breakout features as well. “We send them into their breakout rooms and they have discussions just like if they were in a classroom,” said Tayce.
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 13
Moving a typical lecture class online already presents myriad challenges, but bringing a class built around group interaction adds another layer of difficulty. According to Drs. Mark Johnson and Jordan Tayce, bringing their Organ Dysfunction class online for second-year veterinary students has definitely presented challenges, but they’re also seeing some surprising results. “I think both Jordan and I have found that one of the huge benefits of this scenario was that students, I think, really felt more comfortable actually speaking up and discussing things,” Johnson said. Their class is already not a typical class. Instead of one professor lecturing, different experts lead the course each week. And instead of problems having a fixed solution, the class focuses more on the process of working a case, so wrong solutions are often ok. The students work through real-world cases using the foundational knowledge from their first year. “They have to formulate problems of the patient, provide differentials for the problems, list general methods to assess those problems, and determine what basic supportive care they would provide to the patient,” Johnson said. “These exercises actually give students some experience of how to work through a scenario without actually having all the medicine and surgical courses yet. It gives them a little bit of time so when they get to those actual courses later in their studies, they will already have the fundamental knowledge needed to work through cases.”
gotten into of having to prepare differently for the lecture time means that in the future, we’ll spend less time giving a lecture and more time answering questions and being there for each other, a bit more present in the moment.” Despite the natural challenges of teaching online, Cook and many other CVMBS faculty members are using this experience to discover new teaching strategies, connect with students, and show their commitment to educating the next generation of Aggie veterinarians. “For me, there have absolutely been some bursts of real teaching joy and connection that I wasn’t expecting,” Cook said. “I think a lot of us are going to walk away from this with a new perspective on what it means to teach.”
“If they have questions, they click a ‘need assistance’ button and we send an instructor into that breakout room just as if they were walking up to a group to talk to them in the classroom.” The breakouts and class discussions work similarly to how the class operates when it’s in-person, but they’ve both noticed a trend in how the student groups present after the breakout sessions. According to Johnson, in a typical classroom setting, extroverted students tend to dominate the conversations, either by choice or by being relied upon by their more introverted classmates. In the online format, however, they’re seeing more students comfortable in presenting. “I think it’s actually created a better two-way conversation instead of the way it normally occurs in the classroom where it oftentimes seems very rigid and you could tell that students were very nervous about speaking up,” Tayce said. Johnson and Tayce attribute the change to a couple of things. One, it’s harder for students online to communicate with the others in their group once they’ve begun presenting, but also that students seem to be more comfortable talking to a camera or their computer than they do a room full of their classmates.
“That’s a lesson of life, being very flexible, and I think the students are learning a very good lesson early in their career—to experience a little bit of commotion and then be able to recover from that by getting back in and getting going again.” - DR. MARK JOHNSON “I think that’s the biggest thing that we’ve noticed is before they return from the breakout rooms, they have their answer ready to go because they know that’s the last chance to think about it and talk with each other” Johnson said. Though they enjoyed seeing their students again in person in the fall, they said it’s been interesting to see how their students handled the change in the middle of a semester, something Johnson believes will carry over to their lives after school. “That’s a lesson of life, being very flexible, and I think the students are learning a very good lesson early in their career—to experience a little bit of commotion and then be able to recover from that by getting back in and getting going again,” he said. ■
Dr. Johanna Heseltine teaches fourth-year veterinary students about internal medicine from her home.
14 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
ACADEMICS Dr. Jeremy Wasser
Despite having their semester in Germany cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, 21 undergraduates were still able to have the transformational experience that the Education Abroad Biosciences Program has become known for. Story by COURTNEY ADAMS The hero’s journey, or the monomyth, is the story structure coined by scholar Joseph Campbell that explains the archetype for the classic adventure story seen in tales around the world—a person leaves their ordinary world, encounters conflict, overcomes adversity, and returns to the ordinary world transformed. Dr. Jeremy Wasser, an associate professor in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVMBS) Department of Veterinary Physiology & Pharmacology (VTPP), uses the hero’s journey to help explain the study abroad experience when recruiting students, and he often references it when students are in Germany with his program each spring.
SETTING THE STAGE During the spring 2020 semester, 21 undergraduate students embarked on their own hero’s journey, traveling from College Station to Bonn, Germany, as participants in Texas A&M’s Education Abroad Biosciences Program.
Through the program—which is the longest-running, semester-long of its kind in the CVMBS—biomedical sciences (BIMS), life sciences, and biomedical engineering majors complete up to 14 credit hours. One of their semester projects involves working with a German biotech company to help find a way to increase the mobility of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machines. Unbeknownst to the students, this project was particularly timely as COVID-19 spread around the world, because ECMO machines are a healthcare device used for patients who experience respiratory failure, a common complication for COVID-19 patients. “As a teacher, you want to take advantage of what is going on around you to inspire students,” Wasser said. “This opportunity uses the coronavirus pandemic as a way to engage students in real-world problem solving.” Unfortunately, the educational opportunities presented by COVID-19 were also dramatically affected by the pandemic in ways Wasser had never encountered in his nine years of leading the study abroad program.
PLOT TWIST The students’ first two months in Germany were not unlike any other semester abroad—physiology, pharmacology, genetics, and online writing classes, taught both in Germany
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 15
Wasser, costumed as a 17th-century plague doctor, leads students on a medical history tour of Vienna.
and via livestream from professors in College Station, with courses like Wasser’s “History of Medicine” incorporating excursions to related landmarks, cultural monuments, and museums, in addition to their in-class lectures. On the weekends, students travelled around Germany and other parts of Europe. According to Wasser, everything was normal for much of the spring semester. About a week before Spring Break, however, COVID-19 cases rapidly worsened in Italy, and it became apparent that the situation was more serious than Wasser and his students had initially thought. Some students had planned to visit Italy during Spring Break, but Wasser strongly discouraged them, even though a travel ban had not yet been issued. “The vast majority of these students are going to be doctors or other health professionals,” Wasser said. “I told them, ‘You know more, and you have a responsibility.’ They’re great students, so, of course, they listened to that message.” As spring break approached, some students planned alternative trips to Spain. But there was a growing uneasiness about the developing COVID-19 situation, and they left their German lecture hall on the last day before Spring Break not knowing that they would not return. In the middle of the break, Texas A&M made the decision for Wasser’s students to return to the United States. Rapidly, all of the traveling students were brought back to Germany, where, to minimize the risk, students who had stayed in Germany for Spring Break were placed on one bus
16 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
and the students who had travelled to Spain were placed on another. As fast as their trip began, the students’ trip quickly ended; all were taken to the Frankfurt airport, where they boarded the plane for their long trip back home. Upon their arrival, they went straight into quarantine. Fortunately, none of the students became sick. “I wasn’t really quite ready to let them go,” Wasser said. “Of course, we were all disappointed, but it was the right thing to do.”
THE FINAL ACT Wasser remained in Germany for the rest of the spring semester and continued to teach his classes and coordinate the biomedical project with the biotech company. The students’ classes began at 9 a.m. when the students were in Germany, and they continued to begin at 9 a.m. when they returned home—but 9 a.m. CDT. This meant that Wasser taught well into the night to accommodate his students’ new time zone. In addition to their classwork, the students met as a group and with Wasser regularly using teleconferencing technology to work toward completing their biotech project. In April, the students presented their ideas for mobilizing the ECMO to the company’s engineers and, in May, they completed the semester they had started only a few months earlier in Germany. “I am fortunate to be a professor at A&M,” Wasser said.
“As a teacher, you want to take advantage of what is going on around you to inspire students. This opportunity uses the coronavirus pandemic as a way to engage students in real-world problem solving.” - DR. JEREMY WASSER
“One thing about having Aggies abroad is that they look out for each other; they really don’t leave anyone behind.” Wasser said that their comradery remained true upon the students’ return, as students banded together to finalize their project, complete other coursework, and reminisce on their short time abroad. They all had one thing in common— they had to leave Germany too soon. “Overall, it was still a hero’s journey,” Wasser said. “The point of a study abroad is to be abroad. Sharing Germany with the students is what it is all about.”
AN EPILOGUE HOSPITAL STUDENTS GIVING IN MEMORIAM
Often at the end of the monomyth, the hero receives a boon, or a gift, to show the audience that the hero had accomplished their goal of transformation. “The boon is this gift that you then take back to the regular world and use it to improve humankind. In study abroad the gift is self-knowledge. The gift is the understanding of the commonality we share,” Wasser said. For the students who participate in this program, the boon becomes more than just the education they receive; they, too, experience a transformation after a semester abroad. Although these students were only in Germany for a little over two months, Wasser said the students noticed a change in themselves as they wrote reflections about their experiences. “This journey I started back in January is far from over. The biggest part of the trip that I am still applying to my life currently is practicing mindfulness and meditation. With so much going on at the moment, I have to force myself to take a step back daily and just breathe in this world that can feel so suffocating. I take time every day to get lost in the things I enjoy,” wrote Jennifer Reed ’20. “I am so very grateful for the short time I did get in Germany, and I’m hopeful that the benefits of this experience will continue to reveal themselves for many years to come.” “Seeing how much I grew while I was abroad, I am inspired to continue challenging myself so I can grow in other ways,” wrote Langley Allen ’20. “I am so thankful I got to utilize my last couple of months before the quarantine period traveling and immersing myself into other cultures and look forward to a time when I am able to do that again.” ■
Wasser taught in the middle of the night after his students returned to the United States.
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 17
Through the development of disease modeling, CVMBS researcher Dr. Martial Ndeffo assists officials in combating infectious outbreaks around the world. Story by MARGARET PREIGH When an area is struck by disease, chaos can often consume the community as they try to organize in the midst of fear and confusion. Dr. Martial Ndeffo, an assistant professor in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences (VIBS), helps local officials make sense of these uncertain times by diving into the data that will help those officials identify the best responses to control or prevent disease outbreaks.
18 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
Ndeffo’s research uses transdisciplinary modelling approaches to identify and address challenges for a range of infectious diseases. Infectious disease modelling uses the mathematical analysis of data to develop quantitative representations of disease systems and their interacting variables, called a model. By developing data-driven models, Ndeffo helps characterize emerging diseases in uncertain situations, identify the best strategies for disease control and prevention, and analyze public health responses from a health and economic perspective to inform public policy. This life-saving research has taken him around the world, from Ebola outbreaks in West and Central Africa, to studying Dengue, Chikungunya, and Zika outbreaks in the Americas, to domestic work addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic and HPV in the United States.
STEPPING INTO A CRISIS
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 19
Modelling infectious diseases is a challenging endeavor–not only does it require the researcher to enter a chaotic and sometimes dangerous environment, but because emerging diseases are not yet entirely understood, it also requires the modeler to predict the future when the present isn’t entirely known. Ndeffo explains this challenge as, “as uncertain as your inputs are so your output will be.” The nature of this research requires investigators to be flexible and adapt to new situations, both in the collection of their data and in their physical environment. Ndeffo explains that when outbreaks happen in countries with fewer resources, the human element of this research can take on an important role. “When the 2014 Ebola outbreak started in West Africa, especially in Liberia, I was part of a team at Yale University
Ndeffo knew he wanted to be a mathematician from an early age–his father and elder brother had degrees in mathematics and the interest was engrained in his family. Although mathematics was always a part of his life, Ndeffo initially was not drawn to the path of epidemiology. “My motivation initially was really to focus more on financial mathematics, go into the stock market, and get a financial job in London,” he said. “But I had more interest in focusing on things that were close to home, meaning how
A LIFE OF NUMBERS
“I have a sense of adapting to new situations,” Ndeffo said. “I think that also comes with training as a mathematician, always having a problem-solving type of mentality, which you apply to your daily living.”
Dr. Martial Ndeffo
could I really use my skills to address problems that affect my home country and continent. That’s why I started to look more into mathematical biology, especially mathematical epidemiology, looking into infectious diseases. “I think a lot of people do math because of the challenge. For me, it was partially about liking the challenge and being willing to go at it, but it’s really the contribution, the impact you might have on people’s lives if you’re able to do decent work, if you’re able to communicate it and get engaged with clinicians, and public health practitioners.” His education began in his home country of Cameroon, a largely Francophile country, but school took him to South Africa, an English-speaking nation, for his master’s degree in mathematics. Ndeffo says that his grasp on English at the time was difficult but that math was a universal language for him. He was able to learn both languages—English and math—simultaneously in South Africa. Secure in both the language and his skill, Ndeffo earned a spot at the University of Cambridge for his second master’s degree in applied mathematics. He remained at Cambridge as the Gates Scholar, a prestigious scholarship funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as he completed his Ph.D. in mathematical biology. Heading stateside, Ndeffo completed his postdoctoral work at Yale University, fully diving into the world of infectious disease modelling and becoming engrossed with both the work and the impact it can have. “My motivation was really helping to address some of these problems practically,” he said. “As long as I see that there is a need, as long as I see that this might be helpful one way or another, I will try to make time to make my contribution, as small as that might be, to a specific situation.”
that started to think about how we could contribute to that crisis,” he said. “It was very much a dire situation; it was almost the worst disease in the world happening in the poorest countries in the world.” A member of Ndeffo’s team had the idea of providing their Liberian field collaborators with laptops and mobile phones to be used for contact tracing efforts, after learning through the Liberian Ministry of Health that many members of their Ebola response teams had been collecting data using pen and paper and travelling long distances to deliver these data by hand to public health authorities for analysis. “You have maybe a weeklong lag between when the data was collected and when public health authorities are able to look at them and make a decision. By the time the cases were identified, the situation was completely changed,” he said. “One thing that made a big difference was a very simple mobile phone application where you can observe something on the ground and just enter those observations. People in Monrovia, the capital, could access the data in real time, they could make a decision, and you could act in real time in the field.” Ndeffo thinks this example illustrates the comprehensive view one must take in evaluating pandemic responses. Providing these devices was not directly connected to the
20 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
“You really have the possibility of making an impact, and at the end of the day, that impact always saves lives. It’s really that end product of helping to reduce mortality and disease burden. That really drives me in doing what I do.” - DR. MARTIAL NDEFFO team’s task of modelling, but this simple contribution had a considerable impact and saved lives. Ndeffo says this is why it is important to bring local people into the conversation, take their concerns into account, and provide ownership of a situation when designing public health interventions. “You really have the possibility of making an impact, and at the end of the day, that impact always saves lives,” Ndeffo said. “It’s really that end product of helping to reduce mortality and disease burden. That really drives me in doing what I do.” Maximizing his positive impact on the world is central to Ndeffo’s career. Recently, he has focused a lot of his energy on working on neglected tropical diseases. He says that because they are neglected, there is little existing research and he sees a
there are a lot of unknown factors,” he said. “Having the experience of working on Ebola in 2014, I’m a bit familiar with these types of developing situations, but there’s always a problem in that you will have a lot of things that you don’t know about the disease itself.” Although the current situation presents many challenges, he is optimistic that this crisis will push our society to be more resilient in the face of infectious diseases; public interest in models of COVID-19 has driven more informed decisions on how we react to this pandemic. “I think that whether we want to or not, we have to learn something. A lot of things will have to change,” he said. “For society really to come into that place, we need a more multidisciplinary vision or analysis of what has happened and how to prepare for what might happen. It is very important for us not to do it in isolation but to really bring many
Recently, Ndeffo has diverted his research efforts into studying the development of the global COVID-19 pandemic. His work modelling COVID-19 is reminiscent of previous research he has done on emerging diseases, and his adaptive nature is a strength in navigating the challenges of studying a disease that is not yet fully characterized. “Like any emerging disease, it is difficult to study because
A PANDEMIC COMES HOME
disciplines together, because of the multifaceted approach of these situations.” Although he is hopeful for the future, Ndeffo cautions that the effects of COVID-19 might be more far-reaching than we initially observe. The strain this virus has placed on our healthcare system can lead to overwhelmed health facilities, delayed care, decreased access, reduction in the utilization of essential services, and other effects for individuals who are suffering from non-COVID health conditions. “When you think about these emerging diseases, we have to think about what I call the indirect impact. It becomes more and more clear that the indirect impact of COVID is very substantial and nobody knows—it might even be worse than the direct impact of COVID,” he said. “This brings us to that place where we design our intervention measures and our preparedness strategy; we really have to think beyond the direct impact of the disease. It has to be taken into account how we keep the right balance between addressing public health holistically rather than as a single problem that we are trying to solve.” Ndeffo sees a need to continue studying COVID-19 as the pandemic develops and is eager to lend a hand where he can. He is also continuing his research with neglected tropical diseases, with the hope that his modelling will inform a strategy for elimination. Disease outbreaks are scary and oftentimes confusing situations, as the global population has collectively experienced over the past year. Luckily, epidemiological modelers like Ndeffo are able to assess data describing the present and provide insight into how we should best respond to uncertain situations to create a brighter future for us all. ■
window to make significant contributions where others may not think to look. “Definitely there is an opportunity there, an opening to contribute and for your result to be directly considered by public health decisionmakers,” he said. “You can really bring a tangible impact to these situations, so that’s been the reason why I’ve put a bit more time into neglected tropical diseases.”
GIVING IN MEMORIAM
A rendering of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 21
Veterinary and human medical researchers are working together to learn more about a particularly difficult form of brain cancer to develop better treatment options for dogs and humans alike. Story by MELISSA ESPINOZA Dr. Beth Boudreau, an assistant professor of neurology, welcomes Patches’ family to the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVMBS) Small Animal Hospital (SAH).
22 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
Patches, a sweet and playful dog, is visiting the SAH to be treated for a glioma, a form of cancer that grows in the brain and spinal cord. She is prepped, put under anesthesia, and sent for an MRI brain scan. The veterinary team patiently waits for the images to load and for measurements to be taken, but the wait was worth it—Patches’ brain tumor appears smaller! Not only is this good news for Patches and her family, but it’s also good news on a larger scale for Boudreau and her research team, who have been working for years to understand the tricky tumors.
“Dogs share our lives so intimately that if these factors are important for people, it’s not so surprising that our pets that share our lives would also get them.” - DR. BETH BOUDREAU
big bill. Even after a high-risk surgery to remove the tumor, plus weeks of radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy, dogs may only survive a few more months. But Boudreau and her colleagues want to do better.
TIME IS PRECIOUS
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 23
Boudreau and her team of CVMBS researchers are collaborating with the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center to test a new immunotherapy drug through a clinical trial. This is important work because gliomas also occur in people and are the second-most common type of brain cancer in dogs. Unfortunately, this type of cancer tends to have a poor prognosis—gliomas are difficult to surgically remove and traditional therapy comes with multiple side effects and a
Dr. Beth Boudreau
This project started about five years ago when Dr. Jon Levine, a neurology professor and head of the CVMBS Small Animal Clinical Sciences department, made contact with MD Anderson. “They were originally curious about this idea that dogs happen to share that tumor type with humans,” Boudreau said. “We still don’t know why these tumors arise.” In people, researchers analyze environmental exposures, diet factors, and immune stimulations that “might predispose or protect” certain people with respect to this type of tumor. “Dogs share our lives so intimately that if these factors are important for people, it’s not so surprising that our pets that share our lives would also get them,” Boudreau said. To learn how these tumors work and how they relate to similar human tumors, researchers analyzed a massive canine genomic dataset collected from multiple glioma samples. They found that the tumors are, indeed, molecularly similar, suggesting that the two diseases have a similar mutational, cancer-causing process.
KNOW THY ENEMY
In addition to personal experiences with intracranial cancer, the research team is especially committed to finding a treatment for gliomas because of their distinctly poor prognoses. “There are a lot of things about it—besides the short survival time and the fact that it tends to affect many younger individuals—that make it especially difficult,” Boudreau said. “Anyone who’s had a family member or a pet with a brain tumor has dealt with these same things to some degree—the fear, the uncertainty, the really wanting to try to do anything to get more good time. “It might be that a quarter of their survival time is taken up with dealing with this very difficult treatment,” Boudreau said. “We don’t just want to extend the number of days; we want to extend the number of days that they get to spend together, having fun.”
This means that treatments could be similar, as well. Now, the team has developed a brand-new immunotherapy drug and are conducting clinical trials with dogs at the SAH.
A TARGETED THERAPY When a dog is diagnosed with a glioma, Boudreau will meet with pet owners to discuss treatment options and her clinical trial. If the family agrees to try the experimental drug, the procedure is scheduled. The dog gets MRI images taken that will guide the surgeons in administering the therapy before the patient is taken to an operating room, where the Brainsight system is set up to point a needle directly at the glial tumor. A small hole is drilled into the skull so the needle can pass and then the experimental drug is injected directly into the tumor. If recovery goes well, the dog can go home the next day. In about a month, the dog comes for a repeat MRI to assess if the tumor has decreased in size. “With this therapy, we’re trying to make tumors that do not, on their own, generate a lot of immune response and turn them into tumors that do by injecting them with this immunotherapy agent,” Boudreau said. “We also have the option to repeat the injection, because, as you know, with getting a vaccine, when you’re trying to stimulate the
“We could not do this without our patients—our trial enrollees and their families. I’m always a little shocked when they express gratitude to us, because I feel so grateful for them.” - DR. BETH BOUDREAU immune system, sometimes you get a better response if you do it more than once.” These clinical trials are only the beginning. “It’s really similar to what’s going on with the (COVID-19) vaccine development everyone is talking a lot about,” Boudreau said. “We need to establish that the drug is safe, and we need to establish that it is efficacious.” After Boudreau’s data are published, her collaborators at MD Anderson can apply to test the therapy in a human clinical trial to attempt to establish the same results. “Eventually, hopefully, we will be able to make it an approved treatment for people as well,” Boudreau said. “But it’s a long road.”
BREED BIAS While the team’s main focus is the clinical trial, Boudreau said the genetic analysis is an important piece of the project. “Some breeds of dogs get gliomas a lot more than others. Boxers and Boston terriers are two big ones and then pit bulls,” she said. “What we’re trying to look at now is differences in the tumors from those breeds of dog, compared to the tumors from breeds of dog that just tend to get them sporadically.” So far, six patients have had the experimental injection and two are still enrolled. The team hopes to have answers by the time they reach 21 trials.
TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK
Boudreau and Patches
24 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
To get to this point, the Jackson Laboratory helped analyze the genes and cell regulation of the tumors, and using this information, scientists at MD Anderson, like biochemist Dr. Mike Curran, created the test drug. The CVMBS is now doing clinical trials on the drug. If this works, researchers like MD Anderson’s Dr. Amy Heimberger can help make the drug ready for people. “The benefit of collaboration is huge because none of us could do this alone,” Boudreau said. “My goal and Dr. Heimberger’s goals are actually probably different. I want a way to treat this tumor in dogs, and, of course, I’m sure she’d be happy about that because she loves dogs, but her patients are people. So, it’s great that we can work together. “And then our genomic study has given us more confidence that these tumors are really very similar and will
ACADEMICS IMPACTS LEADERS HOSPITAL
The Neurology team with Patches
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 25
“We could not do this without our patients—our trial enrollees—and their families,” Boudreau said. “I’m always surprised when they express gratitude to us, because I feel so grateful for them. When they say that in the midst of all of these other things that they’re dealing with on a personal level that they want to help other dogs, too, and they want to help fight this disease, I feel like I’m meeting my people.” Because they still need at least 14 dogs to complete their trial, Boudreau said recruitment is key in this project. “If you have a dog or know someone who has a dog, especially if it’s a Boston terrier or a Boxer who has signs of
GRATEFUL LOOKING BACK, HOPEFUL LOOKING FORWARD
something going on in his or her brain, we’d like you to come see us,” she said. “Even if it’s not a glioma, there might be something we can help with. “If it does happen to be a glioma, we would love to try to help out any way we can,” she said. “We have this trial, which is not widely available, and we hope that that’s going to be an avenue to help some pets that wouldn’t otherwise be able to get help.” Boudreau is hopeful and optimistic, much like the families that enroll their dogs in her study. “When owners enroll, what they’re looking for is something they can do, because it gives them a source of hope. When they can’t do any of the other treatments but find out they can try this for their pet, I have to explain to them that it might not actually be effective; there could be complications,” she said. “But at the end of the day, the ones who sign up say they’re just happy to have something they can try that gives them hope for the next day. When we send the patients home after their injection, because they’re doing well enough to go home and we walk down that hallway to the front door, that makes it worth it. Every time.” ■
respond similarly,” she said. “But in the end, what I’m hoping for is that we have something better to offer the owners because right now, we’re so limited.” While, so far, the outcomes have been promising, science takes time. “I didn’t know how long these things could take and how many things can get in your way; there are so many variables,” she said. “It’s really a good thing that we have a lot of people working on this from different angles, because, otherwise, we would never be able to explore enough possibilities fast enough.”
“We plan and train for this, and it allows us to very quickly make decisions and adapt to the situation at hand. I hope that our experience and approach played at least some role in what I see as a highly effective operation.” - DR. WESLEY BISSETT
The Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team drew on its strengths in facing the unprecedented, and sometimes unexpected, challenges of 2020 while continuing to serve the citizens of Texas and beyond. Story by AUBREY BLOOM & MELISSA ESPINOZA Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) director Dr. Wesley Bissett should have known it was going to be a unique year when the team’s first 2020 deployment was to the Texas A&M University campus itself. In March, the team helped organize the COVID-19 response for the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH), putting to work their experience in shelter management as the hospital moved to curbside admissions and discharge processes as part of their scaled-back operations. “The VMTH response was fascinating, and I think our deployment experience definitely assisted with making what was done here successful,” Bissett said. “It wasn’t completely unlike a normal deployment where we go into a disaster area; these are typically chaotic and our charge is to very quickly and efficiently establish a veterinary medical operation. I wouldn’t say the VMTH situation was chaotic, but it was rapidly evolving.” In addition to new intake procedures for both small and large animals, the response included rerouting the traffic flow around the building to allow clients to stay in their cars while their animals were cared for and establishing protocols for decontaminating pets that may have been in proximity to an ill owner. Many of the procedures that the
26 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
VET members worked alongside Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agents and UC Davis students to support animals displaced and injured during the 2020 California Wildfires.
VET helped implement are still ongoing at the VMTH. “We plan and train for this, and it allows us to very quickly make decisions and adapt to the situation at hand,” Bissett said. “I hope that our experience and approach played at least some role in what I see as a highly effective operation.” The remainder of the year was a busy one for the VET; the team deployed five more times, including a tornado response in Polk County, a hurricane response to Hurricane Laura, an out-of-state deployment to California and two single-member deployments, one of which became the VET’s first foray into human medical response.
A MAN ON A (NEW) MISSION Veterinary is, obviously, in the name of the VET, so a request to assist with an emergency in human medicine was a new one for Bissett. In May, he was requested by the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) to serve as the operations section chief for the epidemiology unit working on case investigations and contact tracing of COVID-19 in the state’s Panhandle region. At the time, the Panhandle was one of the hottest spots in the country for COVID-19 transmission. The experience gave Bissett an early respect for the virus.
“I will always remember just how difficult this disease is,” he said. “I heard so many discussions of how people were struggling to overcome the disease and I wondered how many will return completely back to pre-infection status or condition.” Bissett managed a team within the Texas Department of Health & Human Services’ (DHHS) Public Health Region 1, which serves a 41-county area in the Panhandle and South Plains. “It was an honor to be requested to serve during this deployment. The VET has a very active deployment history,
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 27
Dr. Wesley Bissett and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Dr. Monty Dozier and Jason Ott
and this experience, combined with a veterinary medical knowledge-base, led to a very successful deployment,” Bissett said. “It also was another opportunity to serve beside the incredible group of people who make up the emergency management community in the state of Texas. We are fortunate in that our state has developed a very robust and capable group of individuals who are focused on serving the state and its citizens when disaster strikes. COVID-19 certainly qualifies as a disaster. “The VET was built for the state of Texas and its citizens to do whatever job they need of us,” he added. “This kind of response is consistent with the history and tradition of Texas A&M. Aggies stand up even when it is not easy to do so and selflessly serve this state and nation. That history is what drew me to Texas A&M and I am so thankful for the example that has been so aptly provided by Aggies in the past. One of the reasons Bissett believes it was a successful deployment was the commitment of the people of the Texas Panhandle region. “The people in the Panhandle really did this in the right way,” he said. “They worked really hard to make sure that cases were isolated, contacts were quarantined, and that those requiring help received it. Everyone involved was definitely committed to serving their community.”
28 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
“The VET was built for the state of Texas and its citizens to do whatever job they need of us. This kind of response is consistent with the history and tradition of Texas A&M. Aggies stand up even when it is not easy to do so and selflessly serve this state and nation.” - DR. WESLEY BISSETT
WOMAN TO THE (SEARCH &) RESCUE Smoky air, blurry vision, and keeping track of working dog teams in two separate fire regions were just some of the challenges that Dr. Deb Zoran experienced on her deployment to Oregon earlier this year. Zoran has been with the VET since its inception, so at this point she’s no stranger to the chaos that comes with each deployment. “It’s always an adventure,” she said. This summer, wildfires killed 10 people and left 22 missing in central and southern Oregon, so in early September, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) responded by deploying Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) teams to the area. Zoran—one of just three Incident Support Team (IST) Veterinarians in the whole country—was charged with the
Polk County deployment
Each year, it seems the national recognition of the VET grows, and as it does, the team is increasingly asked to assist in new areas. From Bissett’s single-person deployment in the Texas Panhandle, to Zoran’s efforts to increase the awareness of animal care in the national US&R response, the VET continues to lead the way in animal disaster response. ■
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 29
LEADING THE WAY
logistics and command side of response proved valuable, and she was able to quickly utilize the FEMA resource request system to get more supplies on the ground. Having someone with her experience is typically a rarity for US&R teams, which is something Zoran has been at the forefront of trying to change. “My opinion is that there should be a veterinarian, or a veterinary technician, at least, anytime a US&R team deploys their canines into a disaster environment,” she said. “Each team deploys a paramedic, so if a team member gets injured, there’s somebody there in the event of injury. “But that’s not true for the working dogs, except in a few specific cases like Texas A&M Task Force 1, for example,” she said. “One of my goals is to help change the system to make sure a veterinarian or vet tech is on each team; my other goal is to be sure that those dogs and those teams are supported when they’re in the mission.”
care of the 12 US&R dogs that were deployed in the search and rescue effort. As the only veterinarian on-site, Zoran’s job was to ensure the safety and well-being of the US&R canines, which were flown in from all over the nation. These US&R dogs are either specifically trained to detect missing people who are still alive, or live find, or to find the bodies of the deceased, called human remains detection. On this deployment, Zoran was working with the latter, who were searching the rubble of burned homes destroyed by the fast-moving fires. Over the course of the deployment, Zoran’s emergency management skills and experience were put to the test: Because of the unique challenges of an active fire response, one of the teams ran out of the bandage material necessary to protect the dogs’ feet. “Fires are obviously really dangerous,” she said. “Normally, it is best not to place bandages on dogs’ feet because they use their feet to grip when they’re working on rubble or they’re climbing terrain. But, when there’s an active fire and the burned out structures may still be exceptionally hot or they must search areas that may still have active hot spots, the dogs’ feet need protection that is best provided with specially constructed bandaging.” Twelve dogs needing bandage changes several times a day created a bandage shortage, but Zoran’s experience in the
Butte County, California, deployment
Dr. Deb Zoran with Scout and his handler Chad Matchel from Washington Task Force 1
A LABOR OF LOVE The opening of the Veterinary Education, Research, & Outreach facility in Canyon last September represents a milestone for the CVMBS that has been almost a decade in the making. Story by JENNIFER GAUNTT Five years ago, two Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) faculty members embarked on a mission to expand veterinary medical education, research, and outreach to residents of the Texas Panhandle. The arrival of Dr. Dee Griffin and Dr. Dan Posey on the West Texas A&M University (WT) campus was, in many ways, the second act of an almost decade-long plan by the Texas A&M University System to serve Texas’ citizens and assist in filling the critical need for veterinarians who would live, work, and embody all that is life in the Texas Panhandle and High Plains Region. For Griffin and Posey, bringing that vision to life quickly became a labor of love. The opening of the Veterinary Education, Research, & Outreach (VERO) Building last September is the next big step forward for the CVMBS’ “Serving Every Texan Every Day” initiative, which included signing memoranda of agreement (MOA) with Texas A&M System universities such as WT. It also has become both the symbolic and tangible representation of a decade of hard work coming to fruition. “We believed that if we came here and mentored youth through activities such as 4-H, the (Boy and Girl) Scouts, and science clubs; if we get them into college; and then, if we mentored them in their pre-veterinary program and into veterinary school, the chances of those students getting into our veterinary college would be greater,” said Griffin, who serves as the VERO director. “To have them want to spend the rest of their lives here will offer veterinarians in Borger or Panhandle an opportunity to have an associate come back and be part of that community for the rest of their lives. “Our function was not to come out here and just provide education, although we do that; it was not just to do outreach worker training to the feedlot, dairy, and swine industries, although we do that, too; it was not just to identify unique research issues that need to be solved, although the opportunities here are unlike any place in the world,” he said. “Serving the citizens is about more than just a job; it’s about a marriage into a community.
30 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
Dr. Dan Posey and Hannah Wilson
“All of those require the relationships that we have with the community and the students,” he said. “I can’t think of any other state that would have had the vision to pull this off.”
PRE-VET PREPARATIONS This idea is something that Griffin and Posey, the VERO academic coordinator, have found to be true not only in theory but in practice. Before the CVMBS and WT signed an MOA in 2017, only around four WT students had been accepted to Texas A&M’s veterinary program. Since Posey and Griffin embedded with the WT agriculture department, the number of students who attended WT and subsequently applied to Texas A&M’s veterinary school has increased significantly.
“VERO has exploded the undergraduate program here. We started with around 125 pre-veterinary specializations, and we now have over 300; it’s one of West Texas A&M’s largest programs,” Posey said. “The key part of that is recruitment. Every time we have a touch point on a student in the Panhandle, we have the opportunity to recruit our next rural veterinarian.” Delainee Braly, a senior pre-vet student from Seminole, Texas, is one of the WT students who has applied to the CVMBS’ new 2+2 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program, which will allow veterinary students to take classes at VERO for their first two years. When Braly, who has wanted to be a veterinarian since she was 8 years old, learned about the 2+2 program, she knew it was the perfect fit for her, not only because of the
small class sizes but because she and her husband want to stay close to their families for as long as they can during her veterinary training. “Texas A&M has been my goal since I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian; the 2+2 program makes A&M even more appealing to me because we’re already established here. We won’t have to rearrange our whole lives,” she said. “VERO also gives me an opportunity to gear my education more toward what I want to end up doing; I can really focus on rural, mixed animal medicine in the Texas Panhandle—that’s the whole idea of VERO.” Ryan Thomaselli, a WT junior pre-vet student, will be in Braly’s shoes next year. While the Castroville, Texas, native isn’t from the Texas Panhandle, he aspires to own his own rural practice in the region.
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 31
“There is a need for large animal veterinarians, and since I’ve been at WT, I’ve grown to love the area,” he said. “I love the faculty. I love the people. I love the community.” Taking classes as a veterinary student at VERO would mean the world to Thomaselli, especially because of the connections he’s made and the opportunities he’s had to work in the feedlots with the VERO faculty as an undergraduate. “I love that Dr. Posey, Dr. Griffin, and Dr. (Paul) Morley take that time to teach us,” Thomaselli said. “I believe it does give me a leg up (for veterinary school) because I know the professors, not only academically, but we get to know their story, what their purpose is for doing what they do, and who they do it for.”
‘PRACTICAL’ EXPERIENCES On a windy October afternoon in Dumas, Texas, three fourth-year veterinary students evaluate, vaccinate, deworm, and conduct pregnancy checks on 120 head of cattle at a producer’s cow-calf operation. This is just one day in the students’ two-week clinical rotations in the Texas Panhandle, which started last June and are offered as part of fourth-year veterinary students’ (4VM) yearlong clinical experience. The skills these 4VMs are learning are of the utmost importance; regular maintenance allow cow herds to be productive and healthy. “One of the defining skills for veterinarians when you enter a rural or a food animal practice is being able to make a pregnancy diagnosis. The partnership with local producers really helps us on this because students get to practice
Dr. Paul Morley in his lab
32 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
this important skill during their rotations here,” Posey said. “We’re also providing a health program for them, so we’re doing some management work as well.” Autumn Richie, a 4VM from Houston, appreciates the experience. “We’re getting to do everything we would do once we graduate—we get to call the pregnancies, whether we think we’re right, and then someone makes sure we’re doing it the right way,” Richie said. “It’s a nice little safety net before we’re released into the world when fourth year’s over.” This experience, combined with her participation in VERO’s Food Animal & Rural Practice Summer Internship Program—during which she spent time on a feedlot in Happy, Texas, and at two different rural practices—solidified Richie’s desire to work in production medicine. “I grew up within the 610 Loop of Houston and there’s really not a whole lot of cows there. My biggest interaction with them before coming up here was at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo,” Richie said. “It’s been really nice to be in a place where someone who had practically no experience before can get that experience. “The summer internship program is the leading reason I wanted to go into feedlot medicine,” she said. “For me, the biggest issue is going to be narrowing down where I want to go and what I want to do; everything I’ve tried up here has been really interesting and fun.”
CREATING RESEARCH LEADERS When Veronica Muñoz, an assistant in VERO research director Dr. Paul Morley’s lab, learned about the 2+2 DVM program earlier this year, she decided to defer her
ACADEMICS IMPACTS LEADERS HOSPITAL
Posey teaches WT undergraduate students.
STUDENTS GIVING IN MEMORIAM
acceptance into the CVMBS specifically so that she could participate in the new program as a member of the Aggie DVM Class of 2025. “I have two girls, and my husband is the main provider for our family, so it’s difficult to uproot our family to pursue my DVM. The thought of disrupting our whole lives was a very big stressor for me,” Muñoz said. “I am very religious, and the 2+2 program was like God put this opportunity in front of me, like, ‘Here you go; you can have your family and pursue your dream.’” Muñoz’s true passion has always been with veterinary medicine, but the Edinburg native, who completed her undergraduate degree at Texas A&M—Kingsville, decided to pursue a master’s degree in animal science at WT so that she could get experience in another area she feels passionately about—research. While she awaits word on her acceptance into the 2+2 program, Muñoz plans to work with researchers like Morley, with whom she became acquainted during her graduate program. As both a clinical veterinarian and a research scientist, Morley offers Muñoz a glimpse into a possible future, one that allows her to have the best of both the veterinary and research worlds.
Dr. Dee Griffin
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 33
Veronica Muñoz in Morley’s research lab
“One of the reasons I became a research scientist is that when I was a veterinary student, there were programs that allowed us to have research experience, to be in laboratories where ongoing research was being conducted and be part of those programs,” Morley said. “We strongly believe the programs we’re developing at VERO will allow veterinary students in the 2+2 program, and other graduate students, to be exposed to state-of-the-art research, that we’ll be able to show them the science that is part of animal production.” In addition to training the next research leaders, VERO will augment and strengthen the capabilities of other researchers in the area, including at WT, who are addressing the most pressing concerns of regional producers—issues like bovine respiratory disease complex, liver abscesses, and the use of anti-microbials. “The research we’re conducting at VERO is not done in the abstract; it’s not research for research’s sake. We are trying to keep animals healthy and promote their welfare,” Morley said. “The diseases that are the most important to the producers are the most important to us; we work with them to identify those problems and then identify funding sources to promote the research, which allows us to conduct those activities.”
‘ROOM’ TO GROW While VERO began with only two faculty members, it’s growing quickly. Along with Morley, other additions include
34 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
“Because of the partnership we have with Texas A&M and WT, the VERO program is uniquely positioned to let veterinary students see new opportunities for how to serve people—not just animals.” - DR. DEE GRIFFIN Dr. Sarah Capik, who has brought to the VERO team a background in ruminant animal health; Dr. BJ Newcomer, who has brought experience in dairy cattle medicine; and Dr. Jenna Funk, who has brought beef cattle and feedlot experience. The new VERO Building will be an important part of facilitating that growth; over the next six months, an additional 11-13 faculty will fill out the VERO roster to support the veterinary research, education, and outreach taking place there. “Because of the partnership we have with Texas A&M and WT, the VERO program is uniquely positioned to let veterinary students see new opportunities for how to serve people—not just animals,” Griffin said. “If you give the students time to observe those opportunities, they love it. We’re going 100 miles an hour, and the students are like a big sponge, soaking it all up. It’s so much fun to have these opportunities in this setting, a setting like few others.” ■
VERO BUILDING: LEARNING IN STYLE
IMPACTS LEADERS HOSPITAL STUDENTS
The classroom includes a divider that can create two separate spaces.
The carrel space houses graduate students, house officers, and other trainees and visitors to the VERO research and teaching programs.
The Multipurpose Teaching Laboratory will serve as the space where 2+2 DVM students learn anatomy.
The first floor atrium provides a flexible space where students can study.
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 35
LEADERS Dean John R. August
36 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
“I’ve always used the analogy of the jigsaw puzzle because my role is to make sure people understand what they bring to the big picture; each piece, with its different shape and patterns of colors, represents each individual in our college and the different skills they bring.” - DEAN JOHN R. AUGUST
IMPACTS LEADERS HOSPITAL STUDENTS
As the CVMBS’ new dean, Dr. John R. August looks forward to drawing from his previous administrative experiences to create a highly collaborative environment for faculty, staff, and students and a better future for veterinary medicine. Story by JENNIFER GAUNTT
FALLING INTO PLACE In many ways, August’s life has been puzzle-like, too—an
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 37
already in place, which, he says, has made the experience both familiar and completely different. That’s because although August was a professor and department head in the CVMBS’ then-Department of Small Animal Medicine & Surgery for 11 years, the college has changed immensely in the six years he was away serving other administrative roles in Texas A&M’s Dean of Faculties office and School of Public Health (SPH). “It was almost like coming to a new College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences,” he said of his return. “There were new buildings, a new curriculum, new faces, new expectations, new challenges, and new opportunities— it really wasn’t like coming back to the same College of Veterinary Medicine I left.”
Throughout his career as an educational administrator, Dr. John R. August has viewed his job as that of a puzzle master, taking each piece of his organization—be it people or opportunities—and working to fit them all together to create a beautiful, cohesive picture. “I’ve always used the analogy of the jigsaw puzzle because my role is to make sure people understand what they bring to the big picture; each piece, with its different shape and patterns of colors, represents each individual in our college and the different skills they bring,” August said. “My role— whether it has been as dean or department head—has been to help each person see how they fit into the big picture and understand that they are essential. Then, I step back.” While he says he sometimes feels that pieces of a puzzle may be “hidden under a sofa” when he begins a new role, his tenure as dean of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) began with pieces
assortment of experiences and opportunities that would one day come together to inform his role as a leader in higher education. Serving as a dean of a college of veterinary medicine had been a dream of August’s since early in his career. He came into the veterinary profession almost by chance—when his high school biology teacher advised him that his interest in medicine and his love for animals would make him a good fit for veterinary school. “I didn’t intend to become a veterinarian when I was young; my biology teacher made me realize that I might have the attributes to be a decent veterinarian,” August said. “When my teacher suggested that, it sort of clicked. I’d always had pets, but I really had never thought about putting two and two together. After that, I had the opportunity to shadow with local veterinarians and I was hooked. “The fact that he made that suggestion to me in my midteens meant that I’m sitting here today, and it was clearly the right thing, as is the fact that the veterinary profession has been wonderful to me over those years,” he said. After completing his degree from the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London, with honors, he went to Auburn University for an internship and residency in small
animal internal medicine, where hints of his future at Texas A&M and his specialization in feline internal medicine began to appear. “There were three of us interns, two Aggies and somebody from London; we were an unusual threesome,” August said. “I kept hearing everything about Texas A&M all day from my two Aggie friends. That’s probably one of the reasons I’m here today, because of how my colleagues talked about Texas A&M.” It was, perhaps, also because of those Aggies that August developed—without much merit, he believes—his reputation for being the “cat person.” “Growing up, we did have cats; I also had Guinea pigs and birds, tortoises, a variety of things. But cats were more popular as pets in England and Europe before they were over here, so when I came to the States straight out of veterinary school to do my internship, I became very quickly known as the person who would deal with the cats,” August said. “(Because cats were more popular in Europe) I knew slightly more about them than everybody else and was willing to take care of them, even as an intern. “I got on with cats because I had a sort of calm attitude. I knew how to examine them, how to handle them, and, so, I think those attributes prepared me to be a feline practitioner, taking advantage of that opportunity,” he said. “As I went into my internal medicine residency, I continued to have an interest, and from that point on, I really got hooked on it; I found it to be a very rewarding niche.” As cats became more popular in the U.S., August took the opportunity his experience had afforded by giving presentations, going to meetings, publishing books, and becoming someone known for his specialization in feline medicine. “I rode the wave of that for about 30 years in my career and had a chance to travel the world and work on books and have all kinds of opportunities, simply because I was in the right place at the right time,” he said. That wave kept him at Auburn as a faculty member and then took him to Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine before he came to the Texas A&M CVMBS, where his role as an administrator began taking off.
August joined the CVMBS in 1986 as professor and head of the Department of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery.
38 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
One puzzle-playing element August really embraces is collaboration—bringing people and opportunities together to achieve a common objective—and many of his goals as dean of the CVMBS involve nurturing that collaborative spirit. That includes taking advantage of lessons learned and experiences had in his more recent leadership roles to influence his role as CVMBS dean.
ACADEMICS IMPACTS LEADERS HOSPITAL
An avid music fan, August for years hosted Global Rhythms, which incorporated his favorite music from around the world, on Texas A&M’s KAMU-FM radio station each Saturday.
- DEAN JOHN R. AUGUST
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 39
many disciplines work collaboratively to address the basic, translational, and applied problems happening in animal health, many of which can be translated to human health. “I’d like to think we could look at a facility that perhaps more closely resembles the concept of a human medical center. At the same time, we have to make sure the facility provides absolutely exemplary patient care, and we have to make sure that we have an environment that can provide the very best education,” he said. “We are delayed in getting a new Small Animal Hospital, but, perhaps in some ways, if we’d done this five years ago, we would have probably done a more traditional design,” he
“There are enormous opportunities to help a vast industry in Texas and to provide exemplary education, similar to what we provide here, for our students from that region who can go back (after graduating) and support the industries there.”
“I learned a lot as the Dean of Faculties, I learned a lot as interim dean in the School of Public Health, and I want to make sure I don’t waste those experiences in helping to guide and strengthen our college,” he said. August’s former roles gave him a 30,000-foot view of the faculty and research endeavors across Texas A&M University that offer him a perspective on new opportunities for capitalizing on initiatives begun under CVMBS Dean Emerita Eleanor M. Green. “I want to make sure that by the time I leave, we have well-developed plans for a new Small Animal Hospital (SAH). That is of major importance,” he said. “Amazing work gets done in our Small Animal Hospital, but the hospital has a very outdated design and is much smaller than it should be. We’ve been having some very, very early discussions that we will be expanding, and the Provost seems to be supportive of that.” August envisions a next-generation Small Animal Hospital that will foster collaboration not just within the CVMBS but with other colleges at Texas A&M and beyond, a place where clinical scientists, clinicians, and basic scientists from
said. “I think there is a real opportunity to do something that will set the tone nationwide for the next concept of a Small Animal Hospital.” Another opportunity involves the collaboration between the CVMBS and West Texas A&M University (WT) in the Texas Panhandle—the Veterinary Education, Research, & Outreach (VERO) initiative and the new 2+2 program that will allow Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) students to split their educational career between the two universities. “There are enormous opportunities to help a vast industry in Texas and to provide exemplary education, similar to what we provide here, for our students from that region who can go back (after graduating) and support the industries there,” August said. In addition, August intends to foster other sets of collaborations—including strengthening relationships with Texas A&M’s AgriLife and College of Agriculture & Life Sciences (COALS), as well as with the Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA). “The dean of agriculture has talked a lot about wanting to partner with our college in the area of large animal infectious diseases, and, so, having strong, trusting relationships with partners across campus and with professional associations, like the TVMA, is very important,”
“Telemedicine will be a silver lining coming out of this soon, once we’ve gotten through all of the state board issues and all of those things. More convenient continuing education for veterinarians is another. We will certainly come out of this with a better public understanding of the role of veterinarians in public health. Seventy percent of new diseases come from animals and veterinarians have to be at the forefront of that.” - DEAN JOHN R. AUGUST he said. “I’m not going to be the expert in all of those things, but I can make sure the environment is open for constructive dialogue and synergism.” Ultimately, August believes these collaborations have enormous potential to impact the state, the veterinary profession, and the agricultural industries dependent upon veterinary medicine. “Whether it’s providing aspiring veterinarians at the border a pathway to Texas A&M through the Higher Education Center at McAllen (see page 60), working handin-hand with the livestock industry in the Panhandle, or working with human public health for the safety of the public—whether it’s within sight or out of sight— as the land grant institution of Texas, we have the responsibility to serve all of the state of Texas in an exemplary way,” August said. “We have that responsibility as a very highly ranked College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and as part of one of only three Association of American Universities (AAU) institutions in Texas (Texas A&M also is one of only 60 AAU institutions in the country). “That mission greatly increases the value of our graduates,” he said. “Not only do they have the Texas A&M values, but people around the nation understand that we are one of the very top-tier colleges of veterinary medicine. We have a sacred responsibility because it empowers our graduates when they go out.”
THE COMPLETE PICTURE
A highlight of August’s time as Dean of Faculties was carrying the Ceremonial Mace at each Texas A&M commencement.
40 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
Stepping into the role of dean during the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly produced its fair share of challenges—from basic issues like working from home when he prefers to work in-office to larger issues like ensuring the new DVM curriculum continues to be implemented effectively in a time of limited resources; working to maintain safety for faculty, staff, students, and teaching hospital clients; and getting re-acquainted with the college— this time on a larger scale. However, August is also a person who strongly believes in silver linings, so when he thinks about all of the experiences
ACADEMICS IMPACTS LEADERS HOSPITAL
Dean John R. August speaks to the Class of 2024 during orientation.
he has been forced into with COVID-19—all of the new puzzle pieces that have been placed on the table—it’s not hard for him to see the outlines of new shapes being formed in the post-pandemic picture. “Telemedicine will be a silver lining coming out of this soon, once we’ve gotten through all of the state board issues and all of those things. More convenient continuing education for veterinarians is another,” he said. “We will certainly come out of this with a better public understanding of the role of veterinarians in public health. Seventy percent of new diseases come from animals and veterinarians have to be at the forefront of that.
- DEAN JOHN R. AUGUST
“There will be some real silver linings, I think, coming out of this, though it’s a little difficult to think about them when things are pretty tough. I’m a firm believer in looking back at those and realizing that there are things we will be doing in the future because of this that we realize we should have been doing all along.”
“With COVID, I hope that the federal government, state governments, academic institutions, and the public, in general, will understand that veterinarians have a very, very critical role right at the front of preventing the next pandemic,” August said. “It’s going to take that One Health approach and that One Health understanding. “There will be some real silver linings, I think, coming out of this, though it’s a little difficult to think about them when things are pretty tough,” he said. “I’m a firm believer in looking back at those and realizing that there are things we will be doing in the future because of this that we realize we should have been doing all along.” ■
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 41
As one of the college’s newest leaders, Dr. Todd O’Hara has worked to keep big-picture ideas at the forefront for his department’s long-term advancements while striving to ensure faculty and student success during the pandemic. Story by AUBREY BLOOM Starting a new job always requires adjustment, but Dr. Todd O’Hara, the new head of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVMBS) Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences (VIBS), has already had to navigate a unique time in the college’s history. “I had all these plans and ideas, and then COVID-19 hit, so we were kind of regrouping,” O’Hara said. “I never anticipated I would be helping lead the charge with online and distance-delivered learning so acutely and rapidly.” At one point in early March 2020, O’Hara was even quarantined after having traveled through the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport’s international terminal at the same time as
42 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
passengers from Europe. So not only was he still relatively new, but he was one of the first people forced to begin working remotely. Within days, though, it became clear that everyone was going to have to work and learn remotely, and in what could have been an extremely trying time, with students and faculty out of town for spring break, O’Hara said he saw extraordinary effort. “The response to this has been remarkable because, without complaining or whining, people gave up their spring break, worked harder, and used their creativity,” he said. “Everybody pitched in. There was just incredible spirit. People who don’t even like the idea of online teaching knew they had to do it for the welfare of the students. I was so impressed.” Still, while immediate needs were being addressed, O’Hara was addressing some of the longer-term needs of the department, one of the first being major staffing needs for anatomy classes, which are taught at both the undergraduate and professional levels.
LEADERS HOSPITAL STUDENTS GIVING IN MEMORIAM
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 43
“Between College Station, the Texas A&M Higher Education Center in McAllen, and the Veterinary Education, Research, & Outreach (VERO) facility in Canyon, we needed four anatomy positions. When it has come to hiring, I’ve been very focused on enhancing our anatomy teaching capabilities,” he said. “We have an exceptional group of anatomy instructors, and we’re also working on upgrading their facilities. So, anatomy became a focus for me immediately because of the hires and because we wanted to ensure we got the facilities in the best shape we could.” Looking even larger in scale, O’Hara said one of his goals has been “putting the ‘I’ back in VIBS.” “Being integrative means we need to reward and encourage people who have actually integrated across their disciplines,” he said. “During the faculty evaluations, I’ve seen some faculty who are doing that and I think a part of our mission is to integrate across disciplines. That translates up to the Dean’s Office; if we integrate at the departmental level, then we’ll feed better into the One Health initiatives that are taking place within the college.”
Dr. Todd O’Hara
One of O’Hara’s other long-term goals is to expand the department’s combined degrees offerings. “I come from programs where they have had success with combined degrees,” he said. “So, I’m hoping to push combined degrees through which the veterinary student can get a master’s or a Ph.D. (while pursuing their DVM). It’s an initiative that ties into the idea of integrating things— it’d be nice to integrate veterinary students with graduate students.” O’Hara came to College Station after a stint that started almost literally on top of the world—in Barrow, Alaska. Located above the Arctic Circle, Barrow is the northernmost town in the United States, and it’s where O’Hara spent several years researching caribou, moose, bears, seals, fish, and whales. It’s also where he met a previous VIBS department head, Dr. Gerald Bratton, and worked with several other Texas A&M faculty on research projects. As his children got older and started going to school, O’Hara and his wife moved to Fairbanks, and while working there, O’Hara found his career trending more and more to the administrative side of academia. When the VIBS department head position opened, O’Hara was already very familiar with Texas A&M, not only from his projects in Alaska, but from visiting College Station while an assistant professor at Mississippi State University. “I’ve had a long history with Texas A&M,” he said. “I came down to visit and work with my colleagues and they came up to Barrow and Fairbanks to work with us, so I didn’t come into this totally blind. Dr. Bratton was advising me throughout the process as I applied and interviewed. He is a gentleman and a scholar, and there are people in the college who hold Dr. Bratton in high regard, so I was lucky to have him guiding me.” Though only on the job for a few months, O’Hara said he is already impressed with the people at Texas A&M. “I’m reviewing files of faculty who belong in the National Academy of Sciences, who have millions and millions of dollars in research funding,” he said. “Some of the most exceptional teachers in veterinary medicine and biomedical sciences are in this college and this department. VIBS offers some incredible services and some very unique things, like our writing faculty for our master’s degree in scientific writing. That’s just incredible.” “There are no slackers in this department, and that makes it harder for a department head to keep up with everybody,” he said. “I’ve been doing faculty evaluations with the former interim department head, Dr. Jane Welsh, and we just keep commenting on how incredible they are. Many are very humble; many are very collaborative. It’s a very vibrant, exciting place to be.” ■
LEADERS Dr. Yava Jones-Hall
44 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
“As a veterinary pathologist, I’m trained to understand disease in any organ in a multitude of species. Whatever field of research an investigator’s in, I help them figure out how pathology is manifesting and how best to frame the research from the perspective of pathology.” - DR. YAVA JONES-HALL
IMPACTS LEADERS HOSPITAL
Veterinary pathologist Dr. Yava Jones-Hall, who was recognized as one of America’s most inspiring Black scientists, is promoting diversity and inclusion at the CVMBS and in veterinary medicine as a whole. Story by MEGAN MYERS “The reality is, the world is not homogenous. We need our students to be exposed to different types of people in order for them to have more cultural sensitivity and understanding,” Jones-Hall said. “Also, having diversity within any program promotes diversity of ideas.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF EQUAL EXPOSURE
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 45
While many veterinarians develop their passion for medicine early on, especially with the popularity of veterinary-themed TV shows, Jones-Hall did not have that opportunity growing up in the small town of Childersburg, Alabama. “Growing up, my mother was a single parent and I didn’t really have access to programs that focused on veterinary medicine. I didn’t even know any veterinarians, personally,” Jones-Hall said. “When I applied to veterinary school (at the Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine), the requirement at the time was to have one letter of recommendation from a veterinarian,” she said. “I had only had the opportunity to shadow a veterinarian once because he lived and worked about an hour and a half from me, but he had gone to Tuskegee and, thankfully, he recognized my potential and was willing to help me.” Jones-Hall was accepted to Tuskegee and went on to earn
Dr. Yava Jones-Hall, an associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS), is leading in the field of veterinary medicine as the only veterinarian selected for CrossTalk’s list of 100 inspiring Black scientists in America. Created to encourage and emphasize the importance of diversity in science, the list offers an example of the impact Black scientists can have on America, according to Cell Press, the scientific journal publisher that generated the list. Jones-Hall is joined on the list by scientists from African, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latinx, and African-American backgrounds ranging from assistant professors to department heads at universities across the country. “It was surprising and amazing to be selected, especially being a veterinarian,” Jones-Hall said. “It was nice to see veterinary medicine represented.” Jones-Hall noted that one similarity between most of those on the list is that they all seem to be navigating the tenure track system at predominantly white institutions. Coming from a career at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine to Texas A&M, both historically white universities, Jones-Hall recognizes the need for greater diversity on college campuses, not only in terms of ethnicity, but socioeconomic background as well.
her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), but she recognizes that her situation could have turned out differently, not because she was less capable, but simply because she had fewer opportunities. “At Purdue, I was a member of the admissions committee and saw powerful recommendation letters from veterinarians in students’ application packets, and I would think, ‘I may not have gotten into veterinary school if my background of experiences were compared to the background of many of the students that are applying now.’ It’s not a function of intelligence; it’s the exposure,” she said. This realization led Jones-Hall to begin volunteering for community outreach efforts, taking any opportunity she could to promote STEM careers, and specifically veterinary medicine, to disadvantaged youth.
A PASSION FOR PATHOLOGY During veterinary school, Jones-Hall was introduced to the field of pathology—the study of the causes and effects of disease—and once she saw how seamlessly pathology combines with collaborative research, she was hooked. “As a veterinary pathologist, I’m trained to understand disease in any organ in a multitude of species,” Jones-Hall
said. “Whatever field of research an investigator’s in, I help them figure out how pathology is manifesting and how best to frame the research from the perspective of pathology.” Considering herself a “veterinary detective,” Jones-Hall helps researchers at the CVMBS and other institutions look at clues in cells and body tissues to find the best way for the research to progress. Working on a variety of research topics and never knowing what will come through the door next are what make the field so appealing to her. Jones-Hall’s main project as the director of the CVMBS Core Histology Laboratory has been the creation of a digital pathology program. Digital pathology increases the efficiency and accuracy of analyzing slides of cells to count those of the same kind, which is a typical job for a pathologist. “Traditionally, pathologists would look at the slide and say there’s a little bit, a medium amount, or a lot of any particular data marker; it’s subjective. If you digitize slides and use a computer for analytics, the results are more reliably repeatable and less subject to interpretation,” she said. “Whereas it would take me weeks to look at hundreds and hundreds of slides, I can scan those same slides and design a program to identify all the T cells in the tissue, for example. I can have results in hours to days, which can then be combined with other endpoints to give a more holistic and objective picture.”
COMMITMENT TO AN INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY
46 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
Outside of the lab, Jones-Hall continues her commitment to diversity and inclusion by participating in working groups to increase outreach to the local community. She also represents faculty from the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology (VTPB) in the college’s new Committee For Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, & Accountability (C-IDEA), which works to foster a welcoming and respectful environment for all faculty, staff, and students while supporting strategic initiatives being led from the CVMBS Office for Diversity & Inclusion. “I’m very excited about the new C-IDEA initiative,” Jones-Hall said. “This committee will foster diversity and inclusivity at all levels. In particular, having the buy in and representation of staff and faculty is important. We can’t just place students into spaces that may be hostile without first having strategies, best practices, and support mechanisms in place within the faculty, staff, and administration.” Beyond the college, Jones-Hall is a member of Texas A&M’s STRIDE (Strategies and Tactics for Recruiting to Improve Diversity and Excellence) Committee, leading workshops for faculty members involved in faculty recruitment. Most recently, she was selected to join Texas A&M’s search committee for the next president of the university.
THE CVMBS CORE HISTOLOGY LAB: PATHOLOGY AT WORK
IMPACTS LEADERS HOSPITAL
GIVING IN MEMORIAM
“I was honestly shocked when I was asked to serve on the presidential search committee,” Jones-Hall said. “This will be an amazing opportunity to serve and learn the process of hiring an upper-level administrator. “Diversity and inclusivity are important, in general, and it’s important to me, so I'm willing to take on the extra stress and work to make things better, hopefully,” she said. “If you can change one or two people, then who knows what kind of long-lasting impact that can have or who that change can spread to. That person may have encounters with a lot of students or faculty members and just that one person being different could change the climate of a whole department or community.” Jones-Hall hopes her CrossTalk recognition might inspire others to think about those who may not have had the same advantages. “I know the harsh reality that a lot of people face just trying to survive,” she said. “Some students might be focused on how to buy this book or what conference to go to, but other students are focused on how to eat today while still attending classes. I hope that I can inspire people to try to have success in their lives while not forgetting that other people may need you, need help along their way, or most importantly, just need a fair and equitable opportunity.” ■
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 47
Peggy, the pot-bellied pig
Texas A&M veterinarians explored a unique aspect of translational medicine while using a human surgical tool to save Peggy’s life. Story by MEGAN MYERS When Peggy, a pot-bellied pig, arrived at the Texas A&M Large Animal Hospital (LAH) showing signs of a gastrointestinal obstruction, her veterinarians employed a rare combination of equine and human surgical techniques to save her life. The 9-month-old pig began showing signs of an obstruction, including lethargy and lack of appetite, in March 2020, leading her owner, Dan Deweese, to seek help from his local veterinarian, Dr. Lauren Brady ’16, at Alvarado Veterinary Clinic. After they had no luck clearing the obstruction with IV fluids and medical management, Peggy was referred to the LAH. When Peggy arrived, her veterinarians immediately began preparing a surgical plan.
48 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
“GI obstructions and obstipation (severe or complete constipation) are pretty common in pot-bellied pigs, just because their diets tend to not always be very consistent,” said clinical associate professor Dr. Jennifer Schleining, the lead veterinarian on Peggy’s case. Joined by surgery resident Dr. Alyssa Doering and internal medicine resident Dr. Kari Bevevino, Schleining was ready to perform surgery the same day Peggy arrived, if deemed necessary. After viewing radiographs and Peggy’s diagnostic workup, they decided to proceed with an abdominal exploratory procedure. Once the surgery began, however, they discovered that the obstruction was not caused by feed material or a foreign object inside the gastrointestinal tract, but rather by the intestine itself, a much less common occurrence. “Her obstruction was caused by a kink in the small intestine that had been there for quite some time,” Schleining said. “It almost created a little ‘S’ from a couple of switchbacks in the intestine, so nothing could get through.” This kink was held in place by small bands of tissue called adhesions that can make abdominal organs stick together,
“The upside to having Peggy come in and the uniqueness of her case is that she’s provided educational material that’s very relevant to the things that the students are learning in surgery classes.” - DR. JENNIFER SCHLEINING
IMPACTS LEADERS HOSPITAL
Dr. Jennifer Schleining
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 49
surgery classes,” Schleining said. “Even though the students weren’t able to participate, Peggy still contributes to learning opportunities by being here.” After surgery, Peggy surprised her veterinarians by bouncing back extremely quickly, going straight back to her food with none of the complications that can show up after abdominal surgery. To be safe, she was kept in the LAH’s intensive care unit for a week, allowing her caretakers to get to know her adorable and unmatched personality. “Pigs are funny creatures and their personalities are really what I love most about them,” Schleining said. “You’ve got some that are just like little grumpy old leprechauns that say, ‘Leave me alone,’ and others that are super friendly and talk to you when you come in the barn and demand attention; they can be little prima donnas. “Peggy was definitely a prima donna, always wanting attention,” Schleining said. “She loved if you scratched her back and ears with a plastic fork—she would lay there and roll on her back so you could get her belly too. She was a hoot!” Though sad to say goodbye to their new piggy friend, Peggy’s veterinarians were glad when she could finally go home with Deweese on April 9, 2020. “(Peggy was able to leave so quickly because) we have a really dedicated owner who is committed to her care and knows that diet is important,” Schleining said. “I think her future looks really bright, largely because of her owner.” ■
though the cause of Peggy’s adhesions is unknown. Once the kink was relieved, the veterinarians faced their next challenge. Because the obstruction had been present for a while, the circumference of the upper end of Peggy’s intestine was much larger than that of the lower end. Knowing that they would be unable to join these ends together directly using a normal approach, the surgeons employed a less common surgical technique sometimes used in horses and companion animals known as side-to-side anastomosis. This technique involves overlapping the segments of intestine before creating a new hole to connect them. To do this, they chose to use a piece of human surgical equipment rarely used in large animal medicine. “Because she’s a smaller pig, we were able to use a special stapling device called an ILA stapler to complete the anastomosis,” Schleining said. “It cuts down on the operative time considerably because we don’t have to hand sew everything.” Since this equipment is designed for human bodies, it is only useful in veterinary medicine for animals with anatomy similar to a human’s. Luckily, Peggy’s intestines were the perfect size. “It’s really fun to be able to get that instrument out and use it when we have a patient that’s the right case,” Schleining said. “We only get to use it maybe once or twice a year.” Both the procedure and the equipment used made Peggy’s case a unique one for the LAH and a great educational opportunity for the residents involved, Schleining said. While veterinary students were not in the LAH at the time because of COVID-19-related restrictions, Schleining took extra measures to preserve the educational qualities of this case for them. “Knowing that the students couldn’t be there with us, we were very intentional about taking pictures of the procedure throughout and then creating a little case vignette,” she said. “It’s important to show them the steps in a real-life situation based on what they had practiced with their models during the course of the semester. “The upside to having Peggy come in and the uniqueness of her case is that she’s provided educational material that’s very relevant to the things that the students are learning in
HOSPITAL T, a 9-year-old English Labrador
Texas A&M veterinarians use a revolutionary technique to transform the landscape of pituitary gland surgery. Story by DORIAN MARTIN It’s been over a year since T, a 9-year-old English Labrador, underwent life-saving surgery to remove his pituitary gland at Texas A&M University’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH), and according to owner Brian Prachyl, the improvement in the dog’s quality of life has been amazing. “Previously, T could barely walk when we’d take him out to the backyard. He would be so exhausted when he got back to the house,” Prachyl said. “Now, he’s normal as far as his health and energy level, and he can run again at full speed. Every day is a good day.” This innovative surgery provides an important veterinary option for animals like T when the pituitary gland, which plays a critical health role, malfunctions. “This surgery provides us with the ability to help patients who are not responding to our classic medical therapies,” said Dr. Joseph Mankin, College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) clinical associate professor in neurology, who conducted the surgery in tandem with doctors from Washington State University’s (WSU)
50 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “It’s an option that we didn’t have until recently and it’s not available in many places in the country. Hopefully, this will allow us to provide a service to a lot of those patients who need more extensive and more advanced therapies to get them back to a normal and good quality of life.”
T IN TROUBLE T’s health issues began at the age of 6, when he started having regular skin infections and constant hunger and thirst. Tests confirmed the diagnosis of Cushing’s disease, which causes a dog’s body to produce too much cortisol, a hormone related to stress. Soon the dog’s condition declined further as he began suffering extreme fatigue, a weakened immune system, muscle weakness, skin lesions, hair loss, and deep-tissue staph infection. All of these symptoms were linked to a growing tumor on the dog’s pituitary gland. “The pituitary gland helps regulate the hormones that influence the physical function in a dog or cat,” Mankin said. “If a tumor grows in that area, it can cause the pituitary gland to produce hormones that can result in endocrine diseases that medicine will not solve.” These endocrine diseases include Cushing’s disease
STUDENTS GIVING IN MEMORIAM
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 51
Flowers researched these symptoms and sought a referral to the VMTH, where Dr. Millie Grimes, a veterinary resident, agreed with Flowers’ assessment and suggested the possibility of pituitary gland surgery. However, two years passed before the VMTH was prepared to work with WSU surgeons to do the surgery. “We worked closely with the team from WSU to ensure that we were approaching these cases in the best and safest possible way, with their assistance on patient selection, the surgery itself, and the postoperative care,” Mankin said. During this period, Haz-mat developed obstructed breathing and hip pain. In addition, his diabetes required 30 units of insulin daily, even though the cat’s blood sugar level could not be controlled. Worried about her pet, Flowers opted for the surgery when it became available. The surgery, which also was performed by Mankin during the same timeframe as T’s, went well and Haz-mat made a complete recovery. Shortly after surgery, the cat’s need for insulin decreased from 30 units daily to four units daily; this resulted in a $450 monthly savings in medication costs. Now, Haz-mat is totally off insulin and is no longer diabetic; he only has to take easy-to-administer maintenance medications that replace the function of the pituitary gland. “The surgery has been a game-changer for both of us. He is back to enjoying his food and life. He’s coasting right now,” the Waco resident said. “Now I can live my life without needing to be chained to Haz-mat’s medication schedule.” “Dr. Grimes said this surgery would increase Haz-mat’s quality of life and that’s been completely 100% true,” Flowers said. “I cannot be more complimentary of the VTMH in general and the people who work there. They are really good people and quintessential professionals who are kind and thoughtful.” ■
Haz-mat, an orange shorthair domestic cat, faced a similar health journey to T’s, leading the VMTH to become one of only a handful of veterinary facilities in the United States to successfully perform pituitary gland removal surgery from the brains of both a dog and a cat. When a veterinarian initially diagnosed the cat with diabetes in 2017, owner Melody Flowers worried Hazmat had additional health issues; he was having trouble regulating his appetite, which led to significant weight gain and increased thirst and urination.
in dogs and diabetes in cats. This growth also can result in a tumor that causes pressure to build in the animal’s brain, leading to the neurologic abnormalities that T was displaying. Previously, these types of issues were treated through medication to manage the disease’s symptoms, but the drugs did not address the underlying problem. When T stopped responding to medications for Cushing’s disease, the Prachyls made an appointment with the VMTH, however, on the day before their journey to College Station, the dog’s condition rapidly deteriorated. Minutes after the VMTH’s initial consult, T was sedated and on the surgery table. A veterinary surgeon spent three hours removing fluid build-up from behind the dog’s eye socket that was caused by the swelling pituitary tumor. While T lost all sight in that eye, his overall health rebounded, thanks to treatment using an older class of medication designed to turn off the adrenal gland. However, when it was announced that the drug, which was the only medication that T responded favorably to, would be taken off the market, the Prachyls began to consider leading-edge surgery to remove T’s pituitary gland. “The goal of the surgery is to go in through the roof of the mouth to the base of the skull and use some very small instruments to do some delicate surgical techniques to remove the actual pituitary gland,” Mankin said. “This allows us to have resolution concerning the excessive hormone production.“The main risk with this surgery is for bleeding. The pituitary gland is surrounded by vital arteries, and if they are damaged the consequences can be significant,” he said. The Prachyls decided that the innovative surgery was worth the risk. The operation took six painstaking hours to remove the dog’s pituitary gland tumor, which had tripled in size and was pressing on his brain, but was ultimately successful. In the period since the surgery, the Prachyls have been able to wean the dog off of medication for the tumor. The only reminder of his life-threatening health issues is that he’s growing thick puppy fur as an adult dog, which was caused by the increasing pressure that the tumor placed on T’s brain.
HOSPITAL Dalton Hanner and Lucky
52 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
“We’re all eternally grateful for everything the owner did and everything that Lucky taught us. Lucky’s a perfect example of when something looks impossible to achieve, it’s not necessarily impossible, as long as you have the support staff, the owner who’s willing to keep going, and the patient that is willing to keep fighting.”
A Small Animal Hospital team achieved the improbable as they nursed Lucky back to health after a nearly fatal car accident. Story by MEGAN MYERS
Hanner first met Lucky while volunteering with a Houston adoption organization the summer before his freshman year of college. He felt a connection but ultimately decided to leave for college without bringing a pet. Once he began his first semester at Texas A&M, however, Hanner was hit with a wave of depression that stemmed from not knowing anyone in a new city. He thought back to the dog he had met the previous summer and decided in October that if Lucky was still available, he would adopt him. “As soon as I saw that Lucky was still there, I had to bring him home,” he said. “He was very young at that time, super skittish, and afraid of men, so I think that was what led a lot of people to look past him and not want to adopt him. “He’s a Border Collie and Australian Cattle Dog mix, and those are two breeds I had growing up. I always wanted to know what it would be like if I happened to find a dog that was both of those breeds,” he said. “Chance or coincidence, it was just a perfect match.”
After Hanner moved back to Houston, he and Lucky frequently made trips to the College Station area to visit friends and stay at a family friend’s ranch in Iola. “For Lucky, being a Border Collie and Australian Cattle Dog mix, the land in Iola is his stomping grounds; that’s where he loves to be,” Hanner said. “He follows us everywhere and he’s always part of whatever we’re doing, whether it’s work or play.” During a trip this past September, Hanner and his friend were doing some work on the ranch when a neighbor called to ask if they could jump start his truck. They got in his friend’s Ford F250 and left for what they thought would just be a short break from work. While Lucky is trained to stay off of major roads, Hanner believes he had difficulty distinguishing the gravel county road from the smaller dirt roads that run through the property, which he is allowed to cross. “He just got confused and ended up in front of the
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 53
AN UNLUCKY ACCIDENT
THE PERFECT MATCH
With love and patience, Hanner and Lucky worked through Lucky’s shyness toward men and developed a strong bond. “He’s the most trainable dog I’ve ever had in my entire life,” Hanner said. “His combination of breeds, I think, makes him super smart and intuitive as to how people around him are feeling. With what I was going through at the time, it was perfect. “For the entire time I lived in College Station, he was my rock,” he said. “He’s been with me all eight years and he’s the only one who’s been there the whole time.”
While dogs are collectively known as “man’s best friend,” this phrase rings especially true for Dalton Hanner and his dog Lucky. The two have been inseparable since they found each other eight years ago, and Hanner credits Lucky as the source of support that got him through many difficult times in his life. In the fall of 2020, it was Hanner’s turn to provide that support after Lucky ended up in the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital’s (SAH) Critical Care service for more than two weeks after an accident nearly claimed his life.
THE FIGHT OF HIS LIFE
- DR. LANCE WHEELER
vehicle,” he said. “We felt a bump and immediately knew exactly what had happened.” Hanner and his friend leapt out of the truck and found Lucky walking around, but he was obviously in a lot of pain. They tried to help him, but Lucky reacted aggressively because he was in shock. “He bit me and latched on hard, and instinct for me was to try to pull my hand back, which ended up causing him to sink in deeper before he finally let go,” Hanner said. “Then I was panicking and freaking out and as I was checking on myself, the other guy also came to try to help Lucky and Lucky bit him on his hand too.” Once Lucky calmed and it was safe to approach him, they immediately knew they all needed medical attention quickly. “Lucky was trying to climb into the truck because the driver’s door was open and he was struggling. I got him onto the floorboard and he was about to crawl over the console, then I saw his internal organs coming out of his body,” Hanner said. “I’m not very squeamish, typically, but this is my baby; I was definitely in a heightened state of panic.” As they sped toward Texas A&M, it seemed that fate was on their side; they hit every green light along University Drive, which made the typically 40-minute drive only 23 minutes.
Lucky, on the day he was discharged from the Small Animal Hospital
54 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
After SAH staff took Lucky inside to begin urgent care, Hanner and his friend drove to an emergency room to get their own injuries treated. For Hanner, all that was left to do was wait, but for the veterinarians and support staff at the SAH, the work to save Lucky’s life was only getting started.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE Because Lucky was at the SAH for about two and a half weeks, his care was overseen by three different veterinarians in the Emergency & Critical Care (ECC) service—Drs. Ann-Mari Osgood, Dalton Hindmarsh, and Lance Wheeler. “Initially, we told the owner that things looked very bad; there was definitely a guarded-to-grave prognosis that Lucky would ever leave the hospital,” said Wheeler, a firstyear ECC veterinary resident. “It’s our job to quickly assess patient status so that we may present as much information as possible to the owner, allowing them to make decisions based on facts. Lucky was in a very bad way, and we painted this honest, gruesome picture so that the owner understood what he was getting himself into, but that definitely wasn’t slowing him down.” Lucky was taken immediately into surgery to repair his abdominal contents and torn tendons, which required extra care since his intestines were exposed to the external environment, complicating the situation further with widespread bacterial infection. “He needed more transfusions, of everything from blood to plasma to canine albumin (a protein made by the liver), than I’ve ever seen a dog get,” Wheeler said. “He had lost so much blood. He got pretty much everything we had.” Once the initial surgery was done, the veterinarians began to address Lucky’s other injuries. “We anticipated that there was going to be some wound management, but nothing to the extent he had,” Wheeler said. “When his skin wounds started to reveal their true extent, it became evident that none of his skin was really attached to him; it was just kind of there. It was almost like a burn patient, because they don’t have any skin to protect them from the environment.” At that point, Lucky’s ECC team reached out to the SAH’s Soft Tissue Surgery service to begin daily assessments of his skin. They performed numerous procedures to remove portions of non-viable skin and used advanced tissuehealing techniques to nurture and heal the remaining viable portions of skin. “There were many unknowns about how Lucky would respond to treatment,” Wheeler said. “We still didn’t know if he was going to walk. We didn’t know if he’d use the bathroom. Our focus was keeping him alive and
ACADEMICS IMPACTS LEADERS
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 55
Once Lucky returned home, his recovery continued smoothly and with very few lasting effects of the trauma.
LUCKY’S LASTING IMPACTS
“I couldn’t be more thankful, because whatever issues we still have to deal with are worth it for me to have my best friend in the entire world,” Hanner said. Hanner is also thankful for the generosity of friends and strangers who donated money to help cover Lucky’s medical bills, both through a GoFundMe page set up by his sister and the SAH’s Capper & Chris Save the Animals Fund, which provides financial assistance to pet owners who could not otherwise afford a lifesaving procedure for their animal. Even after Lucky left the SAH, he continued to have a big impact on his care team. “We’re all eternally grateful for everything the owner did and everything that Lucky taught us,” Wheeler said. “Lucky’s a perfect example of when something looks impossible to achieve, it’s not necessarily impossible, as long as you have the support staff, the owner who’s willing to keep going, and the patient that is willing to keep fighting. “He touched so many doctors, nurses, and students during his fight for life,” he said. “Lucky pushed us to do things we felt were nearly impossible, providing for us amazing learning opportunities, and teaching us the importance of not giving up just because things feel impossible.” ■
comfortable, and we would turn our attention to other goals when medically appropriate. “(But) everything just went in our favor; when we would challenge him by weaning him off medications or removing a certain tube, we had positive outcomes,” he said. “We were continually taking steps forward and very few steps back.” As Lucky continued to improve, his care team became more and more optimistic that Lucky would not only get to go home, but would also see a nearly 100% recovery. “It was exciting to see him improve so much and it’s pretty incredible how much went into getting him better,” Wheeler said. “Everybody was key and everybody involved had a big part to play. “I was there when he walked out the front door of the hospital and it was something that I can’t even explain,” he said. “The joy that erupted from him when seeing his family waiting outside was something I had never witnessed. That moment in time was filled with so much joy and positive energy that it shook me to my core.”
Saving the Border Collie-Australian Cattle Dog mix required a trio of veterinarians and many support staff from the Emergency & Critical Care service, including (top row) Melissa Espinoza, Lilly Nelson, and Dr. Lance Wheeler and (bottom row) Dr. Dalton Hindmarsh, Cassie Paz, and Erika Mendez.
STUDENTS Eli Hernandez and fellow third-year veterinary students in an ultrasound lab
56 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
“Eli is a life-experienced, mature person. Considering his youth, military service and accomplishments, and scholastic performance, Eli must be not only committed but time-management conscious. Coordination of military career, academic rigor, and personal life suggests a depth of grit often present in people defined as successful by societal standards.”
- DR. GLENNON MAYS
Story by MARGARET PREIGH
about how to prepare,” Hernandez said. “Dr. (Glennon) Mays (CVMBS director of recruiting and student services) let me borrow an anatomy book, which I brought with me over there, but I don’t remember ever looking at it.” Though his deployment provided a break from the world of veterinary medicine, Hernandez continued to exercise his skills in analytic thinking. “I was doing civilian casualties analysis,” Hernandez said. “They had me looking into allegations that people were submitting in Syria and Iraq. The United States takes all allegations of civilian casualties seriously, so we devoted a lot of human resources to investigating the allegations we
HOSPITAL GIVING IN MEMORIAM
Eli Hernandez, a third-year veterinary student at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS), calls himself a “vet-squared.” The title is fitting, as he identifies as both a veteran and a soon-to-be veterinarian. “After high school, I did six years on active duty,” the Lumberton native said. “I was in Japan for my first three years or so, and then I moved to Nevada for my second duty station. I was there for a little over two years before transitioning to the Navy Reserve.” Following his active duty commitment, Hernandez returned to his home state of Texas with a strong interest in animal care. “I really just wanted to be a rancher, honestly,” Hernandez said. “The more research I did, I realized that was unfeasible because the amount of money it would take. I settled on the second best thing, which was veterinary medicine. Being a veterinarian was kind of the back-up plan.” He started working on his veterinary pre-requisites at Blinn, before transferring to Texas A&M. Graduating with the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Class of 2017, Hernandez was set to continue his education at the CVMBS when his plans were interrupted by a call to duty. “It just so happened that I got picked up for a deployment right as I was finishing my undergrad,” Hernandez said. “I had been accepted to veterinary school with the class of 2021 but had to defer so I could go to Kuwait. There was no getting out of it.” While he knew he would be returning to veterinary school eventually, Hernandez describes his second deployment as a break from the academic mindset. “I wasn’t overly focused on veterinary school. I knew that I was coming back to do that, but I didn’t really know anything
THE ‘VETERAN’ VETERINARIAN
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 57
were receiving, and I was honored to be a part of that team.” “In that job, I was taking information, critically analyzing it, and piecing together a whole bunch of stuff to come up with a story that makes sense. Then, I would try to fill in any missing parts to determine if an allegation may have had credibility or not,” Hernandez said. “I feel like the critical thinking aspect has been really beneficial, especially in veterinary school. I hope that it will make me into a better veterinarian someday.” Hernandez returned to Texas in May 2018 and was preparing to enter the CVMBS in the class of 2022, when in July, he discovered that he had been promoted to E-7, or Chief Petty Officer. While he was proud to have received an advancement achieved by few, the promotion also offered yet another conflict for veterinary school. “I had to go through a two-month initiation process for E-7, and that was the hardest part about first year for sure,” Hernandez said. “There was a month of overlap where I was expected to be doing stuff every single day, every single night, every weekend for the Navy, and also expected to take care of my school responsibilities. That was really, really tough.” Beginning his first semester of veterinary school while completing the E-7 initiation process tested Hernandez’s drive and discipline. “It was almost impossible for me to study. I specifically
Hernandez and one of his mentors, Chief Steven Valderas, share a moment of levity during one of Hernandez’s chief initiation events.
58 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
“I know one of the biggest struggles for veterans is the transition going from having that military camaraderie to not having it, so it’s kind of nice having that here because I feel like it’s made the transition pretty easy.” - ELI HERNANDEZ remember one night, I was sitting in one of the study rooms with a group of people, trying to study for anatomy, but I couldn’t because my phone just kept going off the whole time; it was people that I was going through the initiation with,” Hernandez said. On top of all of that, Hernandez, who had completed farrier school in 2016 using his GI Bill, also owns a farrier business and continues to service clients. During his second year of veterinary school, he also taught himself the traditional western art of rawhide braiding and started a business as well. Managing so many responsibilities simultaneously forced Hernandez to focus on the task at hand and exhibit persistence. “It’s one of those things where it’s one foot in front of the next,” Hernandez said. “You can’t look too far out, otherwise you’ll get overwhelmed. You have to take it day by day and just say, ‘OK, make it past this thing and then tomorrow do the same thing over again.’” And that’s exactly what he did. Despite his success, Hernandez recalls the pressure he felt from handling so many obligations at once. “I think I struggled with stress last semester. I struggled with stress really bad, to the point where I developed medical issues and I had to take time off to go to medical appointments,” Hernandez said. “That’s not really an uncommon thing, but it was pretty uncommon for me.” Though his first year at the CVMBS tested Hernandez’s resolve, he said his classmates have helped his transition from active duty to civilian life. “I know one of the biggest struggles for veterans is the transition going from having that military camaraderie to not having it, so it’s kind of nice having that here (among his veterinary peers) because I feel like it’s made the transition pretty easy,” Hernandez said. “This has become my close-knit group of friends, whether it’s just because we spend so much time together or because we actually enjoy each other’s company,” he said. “I think it’s a little bit of both.” When he completes his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, Hernandez plans to expand the care he provides horses beyond his work as a farrier. “Ever since I went to farrier school, I have absolutely fallen in love with the equine foot. I hope that the AVMA (American
ACADEMICS IMPACTS LEADERS HOSPITAL
Hernandez and Danielle Vaden-Anderson
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 59
something that I do have to contribute on a larger scale, and they just see it in me earlier than I see it in myself.” Mays, on the other hand, has no doubts about Hernandez, whom Mays believes is capable of completing whatever task he sets his mind to. “Eli is a life-experienced, mature person,” Mays said. “Considering his youth, military service and accomplishments, and scholastic performance, Eli must be not only committed but time-management conscious. Coordination of military career, academic rigor, and personal life suggests a depth of grit often present in people defined as successful by societal standards.” While his nontraditional path to veterinary medicine has taken him around the world, Hernandez is glad to have landed back home in Texas. “A&M has been really great about understanding my military duties and working with me around those, like with my deferment. I think anybody who applies for a deferment gets kind of anxious,” Hernandez said. “But I submitted my request for a deferment and had no issues. They said, ‘OK. Sounds good. See you next year.’ “I do appreciate how good A&M has been to people who are still in the military, or have reserve duties, or whatever,” he said. “It’s really nice.” ■
Veterinary Medical Association) approves equine podiatry as a new board specialty,” Hernandez said. “I would absolutely love to be one of the first board certified equine podiatrists in the nation, so that’s my goal.” Combining his tested experience as a farrier with the new skills and knowledge he has learned in veterinary school, Hernandez hopes to discover new insights into the equine foot. “I would love to have my own clinic that’s set up to do inpatient care for horses that have really, really bad hoof issues, and I would use that opportunity to do more scientific studies on the foot,” Hernandez said. “I want to try to answer questions I have about the best ways to treat certain disease processes in the foot.” Hernandez’s drive to achieve his goal recently earned him recognition as a 2018 Tillman Scholar, a prestigious award for military veterans and spouses. The Tillman Foundation provides recipients with scholarship funds and professional development opportunities. “There’s still a very large part of me that has imposter syndrome. It’s like, how in the world did they select me as a Tillman Scholar, because it is such a competitive scholarship and the people who are within that organization are absolutely incredible,” Hernandez said. “Maybe there is
“When you walk in and the first thing someone says is ‘Howdy,’ you’re getting recognized. It feels good. It’s empowering. You’re not just a number. And that, to me, is a big, big tradition.” - ROBERTO LOPEZ
The Texas A&M Higher Education Center has provided students like Roberto Lopez—a member of the first McAllen-based biomedical sciences graduating class—an opportunity to embrace being an Aggie while living closer to home. Story by AUBREY BLOOM
60 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
STUDENTS The Texas A&M Higher Education Center in McAllen
“Howdy” may be the official greeting of Texas A&M, but to senior biomedical sciences (BIMS) student Roberto Lopez, it’s more than just a simple greeting. “You go to College Station and there’s not one person who doesn’t say ‘Howdy,’” he said. “It’s like you’re meeting a family, not just meeting an institution; just saying ‘Howdy’ enables you to open up. “When you walk in and the first thing someone says is ‘Howdy,’ you’re getting recognized,” he said. “It feels good. It’s empowering. You’re not just a number. And that, to me, is a big, big tradition.” For the last several years, Lopez has tried to bring that same feeling he got when visiting College Station to the Texas A&M Higher Education Center in McAllen. Lopez, like all students in McAllen, is an Aggie. The center isn’t a system school; it’s an extension of Texas A&M
University, where the students wear maroon, receive Aggie Rings and even have “Home of the 12th Man” banners outside of the building.
LEADING THE WAY As a member of McAllen’s first BIMS graduating class, Lopez’s entire college experience has been one of firsts. In 2017, he was among the first to attend Texas A&M classes in McAllen when the only major offered was engineering and the classes were held at a nearby junior college since the campus wasn’t completed until 2018. That year helped him decide that his future lay elsewhere, so he was one of the first McAllen students to change majors when BIMS became an option in 2018. “One year went by really fast, and now it’s been four years; I look back and think, ‘Wow, time has flown by,’” he
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 61
said. “Hopefully my graduation is going to set an example for other students—that they are capable of completing a fouryear degree here, that being able to come here is an option.” Along with the academic firsts, he’s also had the opportunity to lay the groundwork for events that are already becoming traditions. As a student event planner, he’s helped organize a staff and student soccer day, an allcampus Thanksgiving celebration, and a student versus staff volleyball night.
FOR WE ARE THE AGGIES For Lopez, and the campus, helping raise awareness that the Higher Education Center at McAllen is part of Texas A&M is one of the biggest goals, because being an Aggie is the reason he chose the Center in the first place. Lopez was accepted at the College Station campus, but when he looked at the cost of moving away from home, it just didn’t seem feasible. “I read the newspaper, and that’s how I found out about the Higher Education Center,” he said. “It said that Texas A&M was going to do a program here, so I immediately called the admissions department here in McAllen and asked about it. They were only going to have engineering the first year, but I thought, ‘Why not?’ “I always wanted to be a part of the Aggie family, and I
“I always wanted to be a part of the Aggie family, and I think it (the Center) was a perfect choice for me. I get to stay at home and do this amazing degree from Texas A&M. It’s one of the universities I always wanted to go to, so my goal was to graduate from Texas A&M.” - ROBERTO LOPEZ think it (the Center) was a perfect choice for me,” he said. “I get to stay at home and do this amazing degree from Texas A&M. It’s one of the universities I always wanted to go to, so my goal was to graduate from Texas A&M.” Lopez’s story is not uncommon among the students in McAllen. According to academic adviser Josette Gonzalez ’11, leaving home to go off to college for four years is simply not possible for many students. “A lot of the times, our students down here in the (Rio Grande) Valley wear multiple hats,” she said. “Not only are they first-generation college students attending a top-tier institution, but they’re also caregivers. We have students who live in multi-generational homes, so they may be helping take care of their younger siblings or older grandparents and parents. “So, for Texas A&M University to choose McAllen to have an extension of Aggieland is opening up opportunities for generations to come,” she said. “Now, our students have the opportunity to get a top-tier education without having to leave their homes.”
COMMITTED TO SELFLESS SERVICE
62 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
Lopez is hoping to go to medical school next. Like many of his classmates, he’s seen the need for more medical professionals in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV). Dealing with COVID-19, which hit the RGV harder than most other parts of Texas, brought home that goal of wanting to get an education and work to better his community. “It’s given me a new perspective on life. We have to value life more,” he said. “We knew how important life was before COVID, and we knew that we needed to graduate, but sometimes we lose track of where we come from. “This pandemic has made me realize what’s important to me. And for me, what’s most important is family,” he said. “Being home during the pandemic made me realize that this is where I come from, this is my family, and I want to protect them.” He’s not alone in his goal to use his education to help protect his family. One of the first student organizations established in McAllen was the Border Pre-Med Society, an organization for not only BIMS students, but also students from the Texas A&M School of Public Health.
“Our students recognize that they can be founders and start a legacy for future Aggies to come. And when they're applying to their professional schools and whatnot, those schools will get to see that this student took initiative to start something that would last forever.”
- JOSETTE GONZALEZ Gonzalez said. “All of the degrees brought to McAllen fulfill a need. In the Valley, right now, we have a shortage of health professionals, so degrees like public health or biomedical sciences are going to be filling that need. It’s going to be filled by the students who are from here, who want to stay here, work here, and give back to the community. “Our students recognize that they can be founders and start a legacy for future Aggies to come,” she said. “And when they’re applying to their professional schools and whatnot, those schools will get to see that this student took initiative to start something that would last forever.” ■
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 63
The need for more healthcare professionals combined with the fact that many students in the area can’t leave home is exactly why College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences associate dean of undergraduate education Dr. Elizabeth Crouch is excited about the college’s involvement at the campus. “I hope it will be a premiere place to look at One Health in the Rio Grande Valley in a way that is really impactful,” she said. “Having a footprint for biomedical sciences in South Texas is just really dynamite. I’m very, very excited about the future. “I know that the McAllen campus is meant to grow,” Crouch said. “Right now, it’s one building but it will continue to grow. I think we’re going to see pretty significant growth there over the next 10 years or so.” Gonzalez agrees that a bright future is ahead for the campus and is proud that she’s been part of it since the beginning. “Had Texas A&M not chosen McAllen to put the Higher Education Center, our students would be missing out on something that’s essentially going to change their lives,”
WHERE EXCELLENCE CAN GROW
As veterinary student Chris Tiller prepares to begin his third career, he reflects on how his family and passions have led him to where he is today. Story by MEGAN MYERS From umpire to business owner to veterinarian, Chris Tiller has pursued a diverse range of careers during his life, always taking advantage of new opportunities to follow his passions. As a second-year veterinary student at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS), he is currently working toward one of his childhood dreams of becoming a veterinarian like his father. His other dream, which he followed first, was to have a career in professional baseball. “Baseball was my first passion,” Tiller said. “I played from a young age, at junior college, and at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University). I was a computer science major and decided two and a half years in that it wasn’t something I wanted to do anymore. I decided to try something else for a while and that’s why I went to umpire school—to figure out what I really wanted to do.” He enrolled in the Jim Evans Umpire Academy in Coco Beach, Florida, and began a rigorous eight-week program to become a professional umpire. “It was a lot of seeing what you’re made of and if you can handle the stress of somebody yelling at you all of the time,” he said. “It was about four hours a day of learning the rules and then in the afternoons we would go to the field and have field simulations.” During his long days at school, Tiller discovered a passion and skill for umpiring and began his career after graduating in 2000. He umpired his first game in Princeton, West Virginia, as part of the Appalachian League, a professional summer baseball league. He then moved into the professional minor leagues, first the Midwest League, followed by the Florida State League, Texas League, and Pacific Coast League. “I enjoyed the goal-oriented nature of the profession,” Tiller said. “I knew on day one of my job in the minor leagues
64 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
that making it to the major leagues was not guaranteed, and at minimum it would take six years to accomplish my goal. It took around 1,500 minor league games before I worked my first game in the major league.”
Tiller and former Dodgers manager Joe Torre talk during the Giants vs. Dodgers game on July 29, 2008.
ACADEMICS IMPACTS LEADERS HOSPITAL
“I saw my second son working with my dad, and all of my childhood memories from the clinic snapped back. Being a veterinarian was a goal I had as a young kid and now the timing was finally right.”
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 65
in 2016, he felt called to begin a new journey while visiting the mixed animal clinic in Waskom owned by his father, Dr. Robert Tiller ’76. “I saw my second son working with my dad, and all of my childhood memories from the clinic snapped back,” Tiller said. “Being a veterinarian was a goal I had as a young kid and now the timing was finally right. “I told my wife, ‘I think I want to go to veterinary school,’” he said. “She replied, ‘Well, it’s about time.’” He chose to follow in his father’s footsteps by applying to Texas A&M, fulfilling another childhood dream. Since being accepted, he has used his experiences from his past careers to help him manage the difficult and timeconsuming nature of veterinary school.
- CHRIS TILLER
In 2007, he finally made the jump to Major League Baseball with his first game in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the Milwaukee Brewers played the Atlanta Braves. “I had worked the night before in Albuquerque and I got a call at midnight saying I needed to be on the first flight out,” he said. “I called my dad, who also flew out from Texas the next morning to watch my first major league game.” As much as he loved umpiring, Tiller began to notice the toll that his career’s schedule took on his family. “It wasn’t a lifestyle that was conducive to being a family guy,” he said. “I went to work at 6 p.m. and got back to the hotel at 11. Then I went to bed at 6 a.m. and woke up at 2 p.m., so I was living the reverse of everybody else.” “I finally stopped umpiring because I missed my second son being born while I was flying from Arlington to Miami for a game,” he said. In the meantime, Tiller had started a trucking business with his brother in 2008 and when he decided to take full ownership five years later, he officially retired from his career in baseball. He built his company up to a fleet of 60 trucks that traveled all over the country to serve the oil business; then,
“I felt very blessed and fortunate to get in,” Tiller said. “I knew I’d have to work hard, but baseball taught me to take it one day at a time and set individual goals in order to achieve my long-term goal.” Now in his second year at the CVMBS, Tiller feels reassured that he chose the correct time to pursue veterinary medicine. “At 19 years old, I didn’t have the study habits that the young adults I’m in school with now have,” he said. “I had the drive, but my drive wasn’t for veterinary school.” Through student organizations and a study group, Tiller has found many ways to connect with his classmates despite the age gap. He enjoys taking the opportunity to pass along the life lessons he has learned over the years to the students who have yet to begin their first careers. “I’ve told a bunch of people here that the moment you realize you’re not happy doing something, move on,” he said. “Life’s too short to not do what makes you happy.” After graduation, he plans to join his father’s clinic, eventually taking over once his dad retires. “I don’t want such a great place that he’s built up to go away with him,” Tiller said. “The driving factor is that if
66 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
“I have a very supportive family and a very loving and understanding wife. It’s also been good for my kids to see me work hard and, hopefully, that will instill in them what it takes to succeed in life. Everything I do, I’m doing for my family.” - CHRIS TILLER my kids want the clinic, it will be there. I want my children to choose a life that makes them happy, and if veterinary medicine happens to be the choice they make, I’ll be holding down the fort for them.” As he gets ready to begin what he plans to be his last career, Tiller is thankful for his family’s support, both now and since his days of umpiring. “Every time I changed careers, my wife said, ‘You have to do what you want to do,’” he said. “I have a very supportive family and a very loving and understanding wife. It’s also been good for my kids to see me work hard and, hopefully, that will instill in them what it takes to succeed in life. Everything I do, I’m doing for my family.” ■
Veterinarians at the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) take a special pride in the care they provide to animals that serve in the responder community, both while those animals are active duty and after they retire, as well as those that provide support to veterans. “We feel so passionately about this because when veterans get deployed and then try to reinstate themselves into civilian life, they often struggle,” said Sheila Carter ’91, the VMTH’s associate director. “They become reliant on their pets for emotional support. This shared passion for the military and law enforcement, and their four-legged colleagues, has resonated with both Aggies and non-Aggies alike, and from this shared passion was borne the Veterinary Valor Program within the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS).
Established in recognition of the unbreakable bond that exists between animals and those who are on the front lines or who have experienced combat, what started as a single endowment created less than a year ago has become three endowments that support pets and service animals of veterans, K-9s that assist police officers and emergency responders, and retired military working dogs. The Dimitri del Castillo Veterinary Valor Fund, the Help for K-9 Heroes Endowment, and the Gary Sinise Foundation Veterinary Valor Fund all serve in memory or honor of those who have made or continue to make an impact in the lives of others through their service. Those who benefit from their generosity are immensely grateful that their furry family members now have the opportunity to live a better life.
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 67
GIVING Monika Blackwell, Catherine del Castillo, and Linda McCormick
Story by DORIAN MARTIN Dimitri del Castillo had a zest for life, a commitment to excellence, a passion for service, and a genius for leading others. That charismatic combination helped the Houston native graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point and become an Army Ranger. Those traits were also critical in ensuring that all the men in his platoon survived during a 2011 firefight with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Sadly, that battle, which lasted about eight days, took Dimitri’s life as well as seven soldiers in other units and a military dog named Agdar. Dimitri’s bravery and sense of duty spurred his elementary school teacher, Linda McCormick, to establish the Veterinary Valor Fund in Memory of Dimitri del Castillo at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) in his memory. The endowed fund, created through the Texas A&M Foundation, kickstarts a program to help the college’s nationally recognized
68 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
“It is so important that we recognize the sacrifices active military members and veterans have made. We envision this fund as a tangible way to show servicemen and women how much Texas A&M appreciates and values their service.” - SHEILA CARTER Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) provide top veterinary care to military dogs with unexpected veterinary medical bills, medically retired veterans’ service dogs, and VMTH patients whose owners are active military service personnel. “It is so important that we recognize the sacrifices active military members and veterans have made,” said Sheila Carter ’91, VMTH associate director. “We envision this fund as a tangible way to show servicemen and women how much Texas A&M appreciates and values their service.”
Known for its compassionate professionalism and cuttingedge care, the teaching hospital includes facilities for small and large animals and offers a wide range of specialized services. Prior to the Veterinary Valor Program’s creation in August 2019, approximately 120 veterans tapped other non-endowed hospital funds to defray medical costs for their animals. “The creation of this endowed fund by Mrs. McCormick will help ensure that current military personnel and veterans have access to life-saving care for their animals,” added Carter.
A LONG-TERM CONNECTION LEADERS
Dimitri’s father, Carlos del Castillo, described his son as “an average American kid with an infectious laugh, which was one of his endearing qualities. He marched to the beat of his own drum and always wanted to have the maximum experience in life.” The family always tried to find special ways to celebrate life’s milestones. For example, Carlos and his wife, Catherine, planned a surprise for their children at the end of each school year. One year, Dimitri and his siblings left the school bus and were greeted by a black Labrador puppy named Shadow, who became the family’s first dog. As a young boy, Dimitri was assigned to McCormick’s third-grade class at Nottingham Country Elementary School in Katy ISD. “He was a dream student,” she remembered. “He was smart, quiet, courteous, and had a warm smile all the time.” McCormick lost touch with Dimitri after he left her class, but the two reconnected when she sent him a card marking his high school graduation. Dimitri responded with a thank you card, and they stayed in touch while he was at West Point and Fort Benning.
Dimitri del Castillo (top) and U.S. Army soldiers (bottom) from 2-35 infantry battalion take part in a memorial ceremony honoring Dimitri and others who died during operations in the Kunar district of Afghanistan in 2011. (Photo credit: REUTERS/ Baz Ratner)
Hawaii before being deployed to Afghanistan. His leadership skills were tested during his deployment in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, but the officer developed a deep bond with his unit. “He led people spiritually, physically, and professionally,” Carlos said. “He talked to people about his walk of faith and love of God and got them to go to church with him. Physically, he helped people pass their physical fitness tests. He also worked on their
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 69
Dimitri began displaying an interest in the military as a young boy, thanks to relatives who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. He eventually set his sights on West Point, although he also considered attending Texas A&M. The young man’s commitment to a life of service deepened when he heard then-President George W. Bush address the West Point cadets about the importance of leadership during a time of war. Dimitri was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant with the U.S. Army upon graduation from West Point. After earning his Airborne Wings and completing the Basic Officer Leadership Course and the Mortars Officers Leadership Course, he qualified as a U.S. Army Ranger and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. He was stationed in
COMMITMENT TO SERVICE
professionalism—how to be a better leader and how to get to know their men.”
RECOGNIZING A SOLDIER’S BRAVERY During his last battle, which was an assault on the Taliban, Dimitri maintained his forward position and called in airstrikes as his unit was attacked. He was killed holding the radio mic in his hand. “He knew what he was walking into, but he never showed fear,” Carlos said. “He always maintained his focus and was concerned for his men.” After the battle, surviving members of the unit held a memorial service for Dimitri and his comrades. Dimitri’s boots, those of the soldiers in other units in his battalion who were killed, and Agdar’s collar were displayed during this service, which honored their valor. For his bravery, Dimitri earned the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Army Commendation Medal. When Dimitri was killed in action, McCormick looked for ways to honor her former student. She thought about a previous gift that she and her husband, Mack McCormick ’74, made to the CVMBS in memory of an Aggie who was a long-time friend. She also thought about Dimitri’s boyhood pet, Shadow, as well as Agdar. As she considered her options, McCormick remembered the care her own dogs received at the VMTH. “I noticed how costly it was to get animals taken care of, so I started inquiring about the possibility of creating a fund,” she said. “I worked with development officer Monika Blackwell, who was so diligent in helping me create this fund.” Ultimately, McCormick was drawn to the idea of celebrating Dimitri’s valor. “I wanted to do this knowing that Dimitri died in Afghanistan, which was so brave,” she said. “I have a deep respect for him. He had a great deal of commitment and knew the risks, but he fought for our country and freedom.” The del Castillo family remains very touched by the retired teacher’s gift. “It was a wonderful surprise, and Mrs. McCormick has an amazingly generous heart to make this happen,” Carlos said. “Those who knew Dimitri miss him immeasurably. He taught everyone he met to believe in yourself and know that you’re capable of much more.” ■
The Veterinary Valor Fund in Memory of Dimitri del Castillo accepts donations online from other donors. For more information, please contact Larry Walker, Senior Director of Development for the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 979.845.9043. Give online at give.am/VetValorDimitriInc.
70 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
Barry, a joyful Saint Bernard, has big paws to fill, being named for the famed Swiss canine who saved 40 travelers crossing treacherous Alpine passes over the course of his life. But the pup’s life of service was nearly derailed by an avalanche of expensive surgeries and treatments. The 1-year-old dog was diagnosed with rapidly deteriorating bilateral hip dysplasia along with a recurring staph infection, and the resulting medical bills for surgeries, rehabilitation, and treatments mounted quickly. Fortunately, owner Kaycee Fillmore found both financial resources and leading-edge expertise at Texas A&M University’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Donors have established hospital funds that can be tapped to partially defray these expensive medical bills. The San Antonio resident credits the hospital’s doctors and staff for Barry’s full recovery. “The hospital staff is made up of incredibly capable and caring individuals who make it their top priority to provide world-class care for their patients,” Fillmore said. “Barry has been blessed with medical care far beyond what most dogs in his situation ever have the chance to receive. He’s been given a special second chance at full mobility and, for that alone, we are forever grateful.” Fillmore believes Barry will soon follow his namesake’s path. “People flock to Barry because there’s something magnetizing about his personality and his size,” she said. “Our vision for his future is to find a way for him to bring joy to the military community as a therapy dog.”
GIVING Before ATF canine detection dog Bo lost his battle with cancer earlier this year, Stacy LeBlanc (center), members of the VMTH team, and ATF agents came together to celebrate LeBlanc’s fund, which will allow working dogs like Bo to receive the specialty care they need.
Story by JENNIFER GAUNTT Almost everybody has a cancer story—a story about how the disease has affected their life or the life of somebody they love. For Stacy LeBlanc, cancer played a part in one of the earliest losses of her life; she was just 12 years old when her 47-year-old mother died of cancer. But this isn’t a sad story; instead, it is a story of how, as fate would have it, the many challenges LeBlanc faced brought her to a place where she could combine a love for animals and medicine in unexpected ways and with unexpected results. That journey ultimately led her to a career at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where, as operations manager and later department administrator in the Department of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery, she participated in the design of a state-of-the-art research animal facility and oversees 159 staff, all in support of laboratory animal care.
LeBlanc’s connection to cancer would also bring her to the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVMBS) Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH), where a chance encounter would lead to the establishment of a fund that now supports K-9 heroes as they battle illnesses like the ones her team at MD Anderson works every day to develop treatments for.
TURNING DISAPPOINTMENTS INTO OPPORTUNITIES LeBlanc often returns to Texas A&M to talk to pre-veterinary students about having a “plan B” for their lives, in part because the idea of a “plan B” wasn’t something she had ever considered for herself as an Aggie undergraduate. LeBlanc had been laser-focused on a career as a veterinarian since her childhood, and to achieve that goal, she “did it all”—she worked as a veterinary technician at a local clinic; earned her bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and her master’s degree in veterinary medical sciences, with a focus on animal behavior; gained experience in small, large, and exotic animal medicine;
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 71
worked with research animals in the labs of Dr. Bonnie Beaver and Dr. Don Hulse; managed the Brazos County Animal Shelter on the weekends; and even served as the assistant dog catcher in Navasota. “I knew what I was getting into. I knew what I wanted to do,” she said. “And then, I didn’t get into vet school. “I only ever had plan A. I could have gone to vet school somewhere else, but A&M is the only place I wanted to be,” she said. “I tried three times and then decided against a fourth. I got interviews every time. But my prerequisite grades weren’t good enough.” Heartbroken, LeBlanc found herself back at the same veterinary clinic she had worked at since she was a high school sophomore. But a chance encounter led her to a prayer breakfast, during which a veterinarian from MD Anderson spoke about working with animals for cancer research and introduced her to a new career field—laboratory animal medicine. She initially turned down a job offer at MD Anderson but, later realizing her mistake, applied for and accepted a veterinary technician position at Baylor College of Medicine. Her path from there took her on an upward trajectory through the field—from healthcare into animal husbandry and welfare—before an operations manager position
LeBlanc’s visit to the ATF National Canine Division
72 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
allowed her to join MD Anderson, working for Dr. Kenneth Gray, the veterinarian from that prayer breakfast and a CVMBS Outstanding Alumnus. Much like her veterinary experience, LeBlanc’s 26 years with MD Anderson have included a variety of opportunities, from operations to facility construction and design, facility maintenance and security, and department administration. It’s been a fun, exciting, and fulfilling career, one that sometimes leaves LeBlanc in awe of all she’s been able to accomplish. “I thank God every day that I had to go to plan B because I have had the most spectacular career I could ever dream of,” she said. “If somebody would have said 32 years ago that I would design an animal facility for the No. 1 cancer center in the world, I’d say you’re out of your mind. Construction? No! But I did that. I’d never have had that in private practice.”
HELPING K-9 HEROES In addition to the fortuitous encounter that led her into laboratory animal medicine, LeBlanc has had several other serendipitous encounters that have allowed her passions to converge. In September 2019, she accompanied her friend Leticia McGuffey to the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital, where McGuffey’s dog had been treated for cancer. While in the lobby, LeBlanc overheard McGuffey talking with development officer Monika Blackwell. “I got drawn into their conversation, and we eventually started talking about A&M’s police department getting a K-9 a few years ago,” LeBlanc said. “I asked Monika if there were any mechanisms to donate to help cover costs of their care. At that time, there weren’t, but Monika worked with me to set up the Help For K-9 Heroes Fund.” The Help for K-9 Heroes Endowment now supports the veterinary care of dogs from the law enforcement community—including police dogs, explosive-detection K-9s, and search-and-rescue dogs—that come through the SAH’s emergency service or any of the hospital’s specialty services. LeBlanc’s affinity for working dogs was strengthened as part of her participation in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Citizens Academy, during which she toured the National Canine Training Center, where accelerant and explosives detection dogs are trained. “I’ve always been a huge supporter of law enforcement. I have law enforcement in my family. But going through the citizens academies—I’ve done several now—when I saw these dogs and experienced canine work, I saw a whole different side of law enforcement that just really blew me away,” she said. Because of her experiences, both through the academies and as a manager, she understands that even the most well-
ACADEMICS IMPACTS LEADERS HOSPITAL
LeBlanc’s visit to the ATF National Canine Division
The Help for K-9 Heroes Veterinary Valor Fund accepts donations online from other donors. For more information, please contact Larry Walker, Senior Director of Development for the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, at email@example.com or by phone at 979.845.9043. Give online at give.am/K-9HeroesEndowment.
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 73
Throughout LeBlanc’s career at MD Anderson, she’s witnessed medical advances that have fundamentally changed how we look at cancer. “When my mom died of breast cancer in 1976, cancer was a death sentence. If she were diagnosed today, she’d be a survivor,” she said. “My whole career has been dedicated to the care and welfare of laboratory animals in an effort to safely advance health care. Some of those treatments I’ve had a hand in developing, even remotely, have kept kids from losing their parents to cancers that used to be killers and also have saved dogs’ lives.
CANCER AND CANINES
“When I was a young vet tech, I worked with researchers who were developing these things called stents, and nobody had ever heard of them. Now, practically everybody over 50 has one or two,” she continued. “So, I feel like what I do matters; it’s so gratifying.” Likewise, LeBlanc knows that through her Help for K-9 Heroes Fund, she will impact untold numbers of dogs who will benefit from both the research conducted at MD Anderson and the care they’ll receive at the SAH. “Because the fund is for specialized care and emergencies, I pray no dog would ever need it. But that someone is able to benefit from my gift,” she says, her voice breaking as she tears up, “and that I’m able to help somebody in some small way is very exciting. I’m just over the moon about that.” ■
funded agencies have a finite amount of resources, so she sees her fund as a way to give back. “In some small agencies, the canine program might not be funded at a level that could handle sending a dog to Texas A&M for any kind of specialty treatment,” LeBlanc said. “With this fund, if a small agency is trying to decide whether to retire a dog who otherwise could have more years of service and quality of life, this can help them make that decision to send the dog here and get the help it needs. “I know it sounds cliché, but they do so much for us; this is a way of doing something for them,” she said.
“Lilly is an amazing dog, so smart and so incredible. She’s such a great service dog and a great help when it comes to caring for my son. It was really hard for him when she was gone for treatment, but all is good now and Lilly is back to normal.” - LAURA DEMING
Story by MEGAN MYERS “Lilly is more than just our dog. She’s more than just our family member. She’s changed my child’s life and made it so much better,” said Laura Deming, a physician’s assistant and Navy veteran from Houston. Lilly, a 10-year-old black lab, joined the Deming family in 2011 as a trained assistance dog for Deming’s son, Beau, who has autism and a history of seizures. “She makes sure he’s safe and keeps him calm when he’s nervous,” Deming said. “They’ve grown up together and she’s a good companion for him because he doesn’t speak very well. She just always stays with him and takes care of him.” Lilly is almost constantly at Beau’s side. The only time she isn’t by his side is while Beau is at school, and Lilly can be found eagerly waiting at the school bus stop each afternoon. She’s even a member of Beau’s special needs cheerleading team and is assigned her own uniform so she can join the kids out on the floor. Because Lilly is so much more than a pet to Beau, Deming was immediately concerned when she felt an odd tightness in Lilly’s chest in November 2019. Their local veterinarian didn’t think it was worth worrying over, but Deming decided to seek a second opinion. “It just didn’t feel right to me,” she said. “A new vet opened up a practice in our town and since the first exam was free, I took her over. He immediately said, ‘This is not good.’” The doctor diagnosed Lilly with a high-grade soft tissue sarcoma in her chest, a form of cancer that is common in dogs and, in Lilly’s case, was growing at a very rapid rate. He performed an initial surgery that same day to remove the
74 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
bulk of the tumor and suggested Deming find a specialist to provide further treatment. Although Deming had no history with Texas A&M, she recalled a friend telling her about the veterinary specialists at Texas A&M’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH)
Beau and Lilly off to school
Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles and Jill Jarvis examine Lilly.
IMPACTS LEADERS HOSPITAL STUDENTS GIVING IN MEMORIAM
and decided to make the drive to the Small Animal Hospital (SAH) in College Station. There, Lilly underwent a second surgery in January 2020 to remove the remaining sarcoma cells surrounding the site of the tumor, followed by six doses of chemotherapy, spread out over 18 weeks, to kill any remaining traces of the cancer. In November 2020, a year after Lilly’s initial diagnosis, she was finally cancer free. “She’s done really well and the fact that she’s made it to a year is a big milestone,” said Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles, the Dr. Fred A. and Vola N. Palmer Chair in Comparative Oncology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS). “I think her prognosis is certainly trending in the right direction. At this point, each time we check her and she’s clean, it gets better and better.” Thanks to the Gary Sinise Foundation Veterinary Valor Fund, the SAH was also able to cover a portion of Deming’s bill for Lilly’s care. “One day I was wearing a Folds of Honor (an organization that provides scholarships to spouses and children of America’s fallen and disabled service members) shirt and someone at the hospital asked if I was in the military, and
Lilly, Beau, and coach Steven
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 75
when I said, ‘yes,’ she said they would be able to help me, especially since Lilly is a service dog for a special needs child,” Deming said. “We are so grateful,” she said. “I’m a single mother with two kids, one with special needs. I just can’t say how grateful we are that A&M is blessed enough to have the Sinise fund.” Besides follow-up visits to the SAH every three months, Lilly’s life is back to normal and she is feeling great, according to Deming. “Lilly is an amazing dog, so smart and so incredible,” Deming said. “She’s such a great service dog and a great help when it comes to caring for my son. It was really hard for him when she was gone for treatment, but all is good now and Lily is back to normal.” “Lilly would not be here now taking care of my son if it wasn’t for A&M,” she said. “We can never be thankful enough for all of the help we got.” ■
The Gary Sinise Foundation Veterinary Valor Fund accepts donations online from other donors. For more information, please contact Larry Walker, Senior Director of Development for the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, at lwalker@txamfoundation. com or by phone at 979.845.9043. Give online at garysinisefoundation.org.
HAVING EACH OTHER’S BACKS From the moment Jack Price was first assigned to work with Viki, a German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix, he knew she was more than just another canine partner. “Viki and I relied on each other in both a working capacity and an emotionally supportive one,” said Price, who served on contract under the U.S. Department of Defense. Together, they served for two years as an explosives detection team in Iraq, searching vehicles and compound exteriors and conducting Random Antiterrorism Measures (RAMs) for any explosive materials that could threaten U.S. interests. “It’s a different relationship that any handler develops Viki Price and Dr. Melissa Andruzzi with their dog,” Price said. “You’re away from your family and the dog becomes your family. They look out for you and you try your best to look out for them, too.” Price developed such a strong bond with Viki that when the first year of his contract was coming to its end, he chose to stay in Iraq for an additional year so he could have the opportunity to adopt Viki if she was deemed eligible for retirement. Because Viki had a history of transitional vertebrae and hip dysplasia, typically non-life-threatening
76 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
conditions common in her breed that are often exacerbated in working dogs, Price was determined to let her live out the rest of her life in a peaceful retirement. Once back home in Alabama, they finally had the opportunity to enjoy life simply as a dog and owner, but as time went on, Viki, now 10 years old, developed an allergy to her pain medication and began to increasingly show signs that she was hurting. Viki’s veterinarian confirmed her original diagnosis and said the only real treatment possibility was surgery, so Price began searching the internet for a solution. “I saw the Gary Sinise Foundation (GSF) post on Reddit about the fund and that they had partnered with Texas A&M,” Price said. “I found the foundation’s website and submitted all of Viki’s information; just a couple of hours later, Nick Wicksman (the GSF outreach assistant) called and wanted to know more. “I was overwhelmed, shocked, and very thankful,” he said.
IMPACTS LEADERS STUDENTS GIVING IN MEMORIAM
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 77
“They got in touch with someone at A&M and asked me if I Jack Price, Viki, and Dr. Kailey Kestner could arrange to get her there soon. I said, ‘Wherever you need me to go, I’ll take her.’” Little did Price know as he and Viki began the trip from Alabama to College Station that he was the first person to receive financial aid from the GSF fund. At the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital, Viki underwent a Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO) procedure to repair an early tear of her cranial cruciate ligament, similar to an ACL tear in humans, as the first step in addressing her overall condition. According to CVMBS orthopedic surgeon Dr. Brian Saunders, Viki was an ideal candidate for the procedure because the tear in her ligament had not yet progressed to the point where it caused irreversible damage. “Viki’s prognosis related to the knee is excellent,” Saunders said. “In some cases, TPLO can stop the progression of ACL degeneration, allowing the remaining ACL to function and provide important support to the knee. “So, in a case like Viki, where there was an early partial ligament tear, after TPLO the knee is unlikely to develop arthritis or injury to other structures inside the knee,” he said. “I would like to give a heartfelt thanks to the Gary Sinise Foundation, the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Stephanie Heath, Viki, and Dr. Joseph Mankin Medicine’s Orthopedic and Neurology Services, Clanton Animal Hospital, Nick Wicksman, and Mr. Sinise,” Price said. “Because of their initiative and coordinated efforts, Viki and many more working dogs’ quality of life will not suffer just because their working dog career has ended. My family and I are looking forward to spending many more years with a happy and healthy Viki thanks to them.”
Class of 1947 Rudolf Edward Schiefelbein, 95, of Floresville, Texas, died on Dec. 13, 2019.
Class of 1955
let comrade answer, “Here!”
Warner A. Dunn, 88, of Nacogdoches, Texas, died on Sept. 10, 2019. Sayed M. Gaafar, of West Lafayette, Indiana, died on Oct. 28, 2019.
Class of 1956 Richard L. Baker, 86, of Alvin, Texas, died on Sept. 20, 2020. Harvey W. Bender, 86, of Nashville, Tennessee, died on Sept. 12, 2020.
Class of 1957 Richard Paul “Dick” Crawford, 86, of Direct, Texas, died on Nov. 26, 2020.
Class of 1959 Damon Roe Campbell, 84, of Elizabethtown/Louisville, Texas, died on Oct. 10, 2019. George H. Vincent, 84, of Sulphur, Louisiana, died on Oct. 13, 2019.
78 | CVMBS TODAY // SPRING 2021
Class of 1960
Class of 1975
Thomas Anderson Beckett, 84, of Austin, Texas, died on Sept. 24, 2020. Jerry Olen Brumlow, 90, of Floresville, Texas, died on Aug. 24, 2020.
Richard Allen Cordes, 68, of Menard, Texas, died on Feb. 15, 2020. Mark S. Tolleson, 67, of Fairview, Texas, died on Sept. 11, 2019.
Class of 1961
Class of 1978
James B. Laird, 84, of Paragould, Arkansas, died on Aug. 16, 2019.
Benjamin E. Tharp, 64, of Katy, Texas, died on Dec. 10, 2019.
Class of 1962 Dan R. Hill, 82, of New Braunfels, Texas, died on Aug. 12, 2020.
Class of 1963
Class of 1980 Steven D. Reynolds, 62, of Rockport, Texas, died on June 10, 2019.
Class of 1998 Laurie Cook, 50, of Westerville, Ohio, died on June 7, 2020.
William R. Robertson, of Odessa, Texas, died on Jan. 1, 2020.
Class of 1964 Robert W. Botard, 80, of San Antonio, Texas, died on Oct. 2, 2019. Samuel A. Gilmore, 82, of Amarillo, Texas, died on July 5, 2019. James “Jim” C. Wilson, 79, of Arlington, Texas, died on Sept. 14, 2019.
Class of 1965
Class of 1999 Daniel Lewis Gentry, 46, of Heath, Texas, died on Aug. 20, 2019.
Former Faculty/Staff Robert A. Crandell, 95, died on Dec. 15, 2019. Director, TVMDL
Keith A. Clark, 76, of Calvert, Texas, died on Oct. 26, 2019.
Class of 1966
John T. Durant, 91, of Bryan, Texas, died on Oct. 26, 2020. Large Animal Hospital
Louis L. “Bud” Farr IV, 76, of Lubbock, Texas, died on Sept. 24, 2020.
Class of 1967 Doyle L. Beavers, 88, of Fort Worth, Texas, died on Sept. 18, 2019. James Schlinke, 75, of Laredo, Texas, died on Aug. 9, 2019.
Class of 1968 Samuel Winston Reeves, 74, of Amarillo, Texas, died on June 3, 2020.
Class of 1970 James D. Elmore, 72, of Evans, Georgia, died on July 24, 2019. George P. McDonald, 79, of Castroville, Texas, died on Aug. 23, 2019. Larry Thornburg, 72, of Columbia, Missouri, died on Sept. 29, 2019.
Class of 1974 Allen W. Parker, 75, of Sulphur Springs, Texas, died on Aug. 26, 2019.
SPRING 2021 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 79
NON-PROFIT ORG. U.S. POSTAGE
PA I D
COLLEGE STATION TEXAS 77843 PERMIT NO. 215
Communications, Media, & Public Relations Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences Texas A&M University, 4461 TAMU College Station, TX 77843-4461
CHANGE SERVICE REQUESTED
“Alone, we can do so little; Together we can do so much.” - HELEN KELLER
A Lucky Kiss
(Photo by Michael Kellett, CVMBS Communications)