CVMBS Today Summer 2022 - Passing it Back, Paying it Forward

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VOLUME 23, NUMBER 1 // SUMMER 2022

As every Aggie knows, Texas A&M’s Core Values—Respect, Excellence, Leadership, Loyalty, Integrity, and Selfless Service—are an important part of the Texas A&M University experience.

These values carry with them the responsibilities and traditions that both guide and are embodied by all who are associated with the university.

This is especially true in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS), where each Core Value seemingly converges through Selfless Service.

Every day, our students, faculty and staff, former students, and even Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital clients answer the call to serve our college—and our university—in new and unique ways; this can be seen through daily activities such as research, teaching, and patient care or more extraordinary opportunities such as launching exciting partnerships, giving generous gifts, and stepping into new leadership roles.

Because service is at the heart of the veterinary profession, it is also at the heart of everything we do in the CVMBS.

And whether the service is in the spirit of “passing it back” by supporting those who once supported them or “paying it forward” to help future generations, our selfless servants continue to find new ways to make a difference at Texas A&M and in their communities.

In this edition of CVMBS Today, we strive to capture some of the everyday magic that Selfless Service creates, that is making such an incredible difference in our college.

By helping underserved members of our Aggie family; developing and distributing the life-saving COVID-19 vaccines; performing incredible work in our hospitals and labs; finding new ways to counsel our clients and coworkers through difficult times; providing new opportunities for future students; or helping us create first-class facilities so we can serve more patients, our college community is continually engaged in “passing it back and paying it forward.”

In the past, we have used the phrase “Serving every Texan every day” as a slogan for our college, and while I believe we continue to live up to that, we also continue to explore new avenues for selfless service.

As you read through some of the many stories from our college that have inspired me, I hope these stories also inspire you to continue the Aggie tradition of “passing it back” and that you, too, look for new ways you can continue to serve, as well.

2 | CVMBS TODAY // SUMMER 2022 DEAN’S MESSAGE
Vol. 23, No. 1 SUMMER 2022 \\ CVMBS TODAY | 3 CONTENTS RESEARCH ‘Catching’ COVID ......................................................................... 41 Targeting Ticks ............................................................................ 46 SERVICE Saving Lives And Protecting Americans 18 HOSPITAL The People Person 22 Finding Focus 24 Leading With Loyalty 28 Come Rein Or Shine 32 Never Missing A Beat 36 A Rare Breed 39 STUDENTS REACH-ing Out In The Spirit Of Service .................................... 6 New Beginnings .......................................................................... 10 Sampling Science ........................................................................ 14 GIVING Enriching Education ................................................................... 50 Contributing To A Caring Community ..................................... 54 Igniting A Spark ........................................................................... 57 Developed Relationships .......................................................... 59 6 18 24 46 57 ON THE COVER: The journey of many CVMBS students from an undergraduate (represented by the student in the Corps of Cadets uniform) to a professional in a veterinary, medical, or biomedical field (represented by the student in the white coat) includes a commitment to the Texas A&M tradition of giving back through service and supporting future generations. (Photo by Michael Kellett, CVMBS Communications)

COLLEGE ADMINISTRATION

THE CARL B. KING DEAN Dr. John R. August

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, VETERINARY EDUCATION, RESEARCH, & OUTREACH (VERO) Dr. Susan Eades

ASSOCIATE DEAN, GLOBAL ONE HEALTH Dr. Gerald Parker Jr. ’77

ASSOCIATE DEAN, HOSPITAL OPERATIONS Dr. Stacy Eckman

ASSISTANT DEAN, CURRICULUM & ASSESSMENT Dr. Kristin Chaney

ASSISTANT DEAN, FINANCE Ms. Belinda Hale ’92

ASSISTANT DEAN, RESEARCH & GRADUATE STUDIES Dr. William Murphy

INTERIM DEPT. HEAD, LARGE ANIMAL CLINICAL SCIENCES Dr. Wesley Bissett ’97

DEPT. HEAD, SMALL ANIMAL CLINICAL SCIENCES Dr. Jonathan Levine

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

CHIEF OF STAFF Ms. Misty Skaggs ’93

SENIOR DIRECTOR, DEVELOPMENT (TEXAS A&M FOUNDATION) Mr. Larry Walker ’97

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, & ASSISTANT CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER Mr. Kris Guye

DIRECTOR, COMMUNICATIONS, MEDIA, & PUBLIC RELATIONS Ms. Jennifer G. Gauntt

4 | CVMBS TODAY // SUMMER 2022 CVMBS INFORMATION EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Jennifer G. Gauntt WRITERS: Aubrey Bloom ’07 Megan Myers ’19 Margaret Preigh ’21 EDITORIAL ASSISTANT: Marissa Vargas ’19 ART DIRECTION & DESIGN: Christopher A. Long PHOTOGRAPHERS: Michael Kellett ’91 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 cvmtoday@cvm.tamu.edu. 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. ENGAGE WITH US @tamuvetmed

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Biomedical sciences undergraduate student Emma Bender and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine students came together to bring veterinary medicine to underserved members of the community.

Story by MEGAN MYERS

For as long as she can remember, senior biomedical sciences major Emma Bender has loved animals and desired to become a veterinarian. When she discovered a passion

for community service as well, she decided to dedicate her career to serving both people and animals.

While volunteering at a service event for the Texas A&M student organization Ags REACH, she had an idea that would allow her to start achieving her goals while still a student.

Bender recalled that members of her local community had reduced access to veterinary care for their pets and came up with a way to make a difference.

“I was having a conversation about a health fair we were planning for our essential Aggies, when I started thinking

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Veterinary students examine the dogs of an essential Aggie. it would be really cool if we could take care of their pets as well,” the Plano native said.

Her dream became a reality when the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) and the REACH project of Bryan partnered to host the REACH Pet Health Fair for Texas A&M's essential workers.

During the recurring event, service workers from the Texas A&M campus are invited to bring their pets to a free pet wellness clinic that offeres physical examinations, heartworm and fecal tests, heartworm prevention, and

vaccinations by CVMBS veterinary students, under faculty supervision.

SERVING PEOPLE AND PETS

The REACH (Respect Empowerment Aspiration Community Hope) Project is a nonprofit organization founded in 2017 by Texas A&M alumnus Max Gerall ’18 to support the university’s more than 3,000 contracted, third-party workers, including food service, custodial, grounds, and maintenance employees, many of whom face daily struggles.

REACH provides these community members with health, education, and housing resources, areas in which many of them feel gaps. The nonprofit regularly operates in partnership with Texas A&M-affiliated Ags REACH, which provides the manpower to help REACH achieve its goals.

Partnering with the CVMBS, the REACH Pet Health Fair provides free services to the pets of essential workers who otherwise may not be able to access the same level of care.

One of the clients was Chanika Moses, a dietitian for Compass USA who works at Texas A&M, who brought her dog, Puppins, and cat, Noodles, for a checkup.

“It went very well and it was a great experience,” Moses said. “These pets are our support animals; my dog, especially, knows when we're hurting, emotionally or physically, and she comes to snuggle with us. She tries to make us feel better in any way she can.

“They're a very important part of our family and we try to take care of them as much as possible, but we want to do it at a low cost,” she said. “Going to the vet is very expensive, so this opportunity saved us a lot and we can redistribute that income toward things other than that dreaded vet bill.”

Moses plans to return for future pet health fairs and to other collaborations between REACH and the CVMBS.

“It's honestly amazing to see how many people we're helping,” Bender said. “As I've been in contact with our essential Aggies, they are all just so grateful that we're doing this for them. Seeing this unfold as something that I created is just incredible and, honestly, really hard to put into words.”

FINDING JOY FROM HELPING OTHERS

Finding fulfillment in community service was something Bender first experienced in high school while participating in summer mission trips for her church.

“We went to Crossville, Tennessee, every summer to serve the underprivileged and put on a Vacation Bible School-type event for the children,” she said. “Being able to interact with those kids and see how much they loved what we did for them was honestly more fulfilling than probably anything else I could ever do.”

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Besides helping others, veterinary medicine is one of her other greatest passions in life.

“I've always wanted to be a vet. Literally since before I can remember, that's all I've ever wanted to do,” she said. “Through high school, all of my opportunities shadowing veterinarians, and working at vet clinics, I have not changed my mind.”

While the world-renowned CVMBS was Bender’s main motivation for attending Texas A&M, she was also attracted to the university’s focus on selfless service.

“It's amazing because there are just so many opportunities for students to get involved in the community,” she said.

Bender is already planning for a future that combines her loves for veterinary medicine and community service. She envisions a career in which she can use her skills in small animal medicine to support local animal shelters and community members in need.

AN OPPORTUNITY TO GIVE BACK

For the CVMBS, the pet health fair not only provides a way to give back to the community, but it also gives veterinary students a chance to practice everyday skills like performing exams, giving vaccines, and running diagnostic tests, under faculty supervision.

“I chose to participate because I love meeting different pet owners and, through conversing with them, coming to appreciate their unique human-animal bond,” said thirdyear veterinary student Rachael Barton, one of several student volunteers at the health fair.

“Veterinarians are a huge part of any community they're within—they're respected members and leaders. It's so important that we maintain that and really own that responsibility and accountability. We want to train our students that that is part of who you are as a veterinarian.”

“While some aspects of preventative care may be intuitive for us vet students, we should never assume that owners know and understand what prevention their pet needs,” she said. “That’s an area where we, as veterinary students, can help. Through outreach events such as this one, we can make preventative care much more accessible for our community.”

During the event, second- and third-year veterinary students greet clients, take their pets’ histories, determine if any specific health issues needed to be addressed, and then bring the animals inside; they then worked with a fourthyear veterinary student to do a full physical exam and administer vaccines.

“The pet health fair was a great opportunity for me to practice both my soft communication skills and my clinical skills, such as drawing blood and giving vaccinations,” Barton said. “Some of the fourth-year veterinary students gave me some great physical exam tips.”

That students work together practicing peer-to-peer education across different classes was another of the unique educational aspects of the event.

“Our fourth-year students were educating our third- and second-year students about what they were doing (during the pets’ physical exams), so it was an opportunity not only for them to provide service to their community but also to learn from each other in the process, which is how veterinary medicine often works,” said Dr. Karen Cornell, CVMBS associate dean for Professional Programs.

“Veterinarians are a huge part of any community they're within—they're respected members and leaders,” Cornell said. “It's so important that we maintain that and really own that responsibility and accountability. We want to train our students that that is part of who you are as a veterinarian.”

A WORTHY CAUSE

The idea for the REACH Project first began when Gerall, who went on to become REACH’s founder and executive director, met Melissa Martinez, an on-campus dining hall cashier, as a freshman.

“It all started because of a really close relationship with Mrs. Melissa, a front desk cashier at Sbisa Dining Hall. We got so close that she became my ‘on-campus mom,’” Gerall

Emma Bender and Max Gerall
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“This was just a logical connection for us to be able to provide veterinary care to those folks’ pets. It's an amazing group of people that we're serving, a very deserving group of people, and we want to make sure that we provide them with equivalent service to what they provide us with every day.”

said. “She’s a beautiful person who really opened my eyes to the invisible yet essential part of our community that's all around us here on the A&M campus.

“As I met with and talked to more and more of these employees, I came to realize that I now have friends who are living in parallel universes; that knowledge changed the trajectory of my life,” he said. “Among my newest invisible friends there were homeless employees, families living in cheap motels, sick employees without access to affordable healthcare, and hundreds more dependent on neighbors for transportation to work.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communication, he decided to dedicate his career to giving back to those workers who spend each day supporting the

university. Since then, he has gone on to meet and develop relationships with the 700 essential Aggies REACH supports.

“Being a Land Grant Institution, Texas A&M has access to vast intellectual and physical resources so that when combined with an incredibly passionate student body, the sky truly is the limit,” Gerall said. “For the vet school and their students to come together and support some of the most vulnerable members of our campus community speaks volumes about who they are and what they stand for and we are honored to have this partnership.”

REACH and the CVMBS plan to continue holding the Pet Health Fairs each semester.

“The REACH Project is such a great program, and we are constantly looking, as all Aggies are, for selfless service opportunities,” Cornell said. “This was just a logical connection for us to be able to provide veterinary care to those folks’ pets. It's an amazing group of people that we're serving, a very deserving group of people, and we want to make sure that we provide them with equivalent service to what they provide us with every day.”

Emma Bender, Dr. Stacy Eckman, and Elizabeth Eckman
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Generations of veterinary students and faculty have joined the Aggie family during the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVMBS) 115-year history. But for the first cohort of 2+2 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) students and the educators at the CVMBS’ Veterinary Education, Research, & Outreach (VERO) program, that family feeling is going to be even more pronounced.

That’s because in addition to ensuring that those 16 veterinary students in Canyon are as much a part of the CVMBS as their peers in College Station, a new cohort of CVMBS faculty members have come on board who both live up to Texas A&M’s reputation in teaching and practicing veterinary medicine and also take very seriously the role they play in creating a sense of family among this small group of Aggies in the Texas Panhandle.

“This is a group of not only great educators but great practitioners,” said Dr. Susan Eades, associate dean for administration, Canyon campus. “These are accomplished

veterinarians who have worked in private practice or as clinical faculty at other universities, but they’re also passionate teachers. I really couldn’t be prouder of the quality of this group, and we are excited to know that our students in Canyon are getting the same top-tier Texas A&M veterinary education as our students in College Station.”

SMALLER CLASSES = BIGGER OPPORTUNITIES

Dr. Christine Barron, an instructional assistant professor of anatomy, said being able to build on Texas A&M’s established history of veterinary education while working with a small group of students is an exciting opportunity.

“One thing that sets us apart from other programs is that Texas A&M has an outstanding program, a well-developed curriculum, and a great reputation,” Barron said. “Here at VERO, we have the additional advantage and opportunity of that smaller student-to-faculty ratio. We’re going to know the names of all of our students; that’s going to help with engagement and approachability.”

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With smaller classes come opportunities for more oneon-one conversations with faculty members, who are eager to share their knowledge and clinical experiences. Dr. Lisa Lunn, a food animal educator who has experience working with a variety of 2+2 and distributive veterinary programs, is among those.

“Historically, what I found from students when I worked at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is the students who come in with a lot of large animal experience got the chance to really refine the skills they already had,” Lunn said. “For the students who may not have ever touched a cow but think maybe they'd want to do some mixed animal practice, I've got the time to walk them through it slowly and to help build their confidence along with those clinical skills.”

But alongside these opportunities, the smaller class sizes also come with inherent challenges.

“These faculty are getting to know more about each individual student because of that small student-tofaculty ratio,” said Dr. Kristin Chaney, assistant dean for curriculum and assessment for the DVM program. “That is one of the great and beautiful things about this program, but it also does carry with it an extra level of expectation, responsibility, and accountability.”

AN EQUIVALENT EDUCATION

Ensuring that the students at VERO experience an equivalent first two years of their veterinary education will be crucial to successfully bringing everyone together in their third year.

“The courses are the same courses that are being taught in College Station, in relation to course title, objectives, and outcomes,” said Dr. Karen Cornell, CVMBS associate dean for the DVM Professional Program. “But they may occasionally reach those outcomes or objectives using a different approach.

“Respiratory physiology is a great example,” she

“With the technology our college is equipped with, we can easily share experiences and education opportunities between locations. It actually is also beneficial to our students in College Station to gain perspective from their classmates and faculty at VERO.”

continued. “At VERO, they might see an example of cattle respiratory physiology to emphasize a specific principle, while the students in College Station might see that principle illustrated in a small animal.”

Dr. Kelli Beavers, a diplomate of both the American College of Veterinary Practitioners (Equine) and the American College of Theriogenology, is among the new faculty members embracing this philosophy of “same but different” as she hopes to help students develop their skills earlier in their education than you might see at a more traditional veterinary program.

“In any veterinary practice, you’re thinking on your feet and you’re really having to evaluate decisions in the moment out on a farm,” she said. “One of the things that attracted me to this job is that we’re going to start helping students develop those skills earlier.

“Right now, veterinary medicine needs to be looking for alternative ideas in training, not just to help better prepare our students and hopefully increase the number of graduates, but to better prepare those graduates to go out into diverse career paths,” she said. “This 2+2 program is so different from the traditional model that it’s worth taking a shot and joining a new program.”

SYNERGISM ACROSS CAMPUSES

The CVMBS’ 2+2 program may be located in Canyon, but it is the only 2+2 program that resides in the same state as its “home” veterinary college. A key benefit of this is that VERO faculty will be as much a part of the CVMBS as their students—attending department meetings, joining service committees, and otherwise collaborating with College Station colleagues.

“One of the special things about our 2+2 program, that none of the other 2+2 programs have, is that our faculty are part of our departments at the CVMBS,” Chaney said. “That will really support the collaboration between the two campuses. It's exciting because it is new, but also because there's nothing else like it in the veterinary profession.”

Making sure students and faculty are on the same page will be much easier with virtual learning tools, like Zoom virtual meetings, that became popular during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Delainee Braly and Holly Freeman

“The pandemic reinforced the idea that we might be in two different locations, but we don't have to be disconnected,” Cornell said. “With the technology our college is equipped with, we can easily share experiences and education opportunities between locations. It actually is also beneficial to our students in College Station to gain perspective from their classmates and faculty at VERO.”

While, ultimately, the first cohort of 2+2 students and the faculty at VERO will play an important role in helping shape the future of the 2+2 program, they all will share a bond in being the “first” together.

“We’re going to have a pretty special culture here,” Aicher said. “We’re a small group and we’ve all basically started at the same time. It’s been a bonding experience. We’re all going to be going through this together, and that’s something the students will appreciate and be a part of as well.”

“It's always difficult to be the first one to do anything, yet that's both a challenge and an opportunity,” Cornell said. “These students will have the opportunity to provide feedback on things that are working or not working and help mold the future of the program.” ■

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SERVICE HOSPITAL RESEARCH GIVING STUDENTS Cade Holden (Photo by Darcy Lively, West Texas A&M University) Jayci Padgett (Photo by Darcy Lively, West Texas A&M University) Dr. Negin Mirhosseini and Charles Lee
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“It’s one thing to learn and just pass the class because you want to, but for me, I have a drive to figure out why things happen the way they do. It really gives me a much deeper understanding of the world. That’s really the big reason why I jumped into doing undergraduate research.”

Biomedical sciences students in McAllen have embraced the CVMBS’ value of research by working to launch a program of their own.

Since its inception, one of the key selling points at the Texas A&M Higher Education Center in McAllen has been that students will have the same opportunities they have in College Station.

This also has been true for the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVMBS) Biomedical Sciences (BIMS) program at the Higher Education Center.

In addition to ensuring that the CVMBS’ BIMS students in McAllen receive the same quality education and live by Texas A&M’s core values, the CVMBS has continued to emphasize to BIMS students in McAllen the importance of undergraduate research and the impact their research can have in fulfilling the needs of their community.

This is something well-tested in the CVMBS; the BIMS Undergraduate Research Program has grown to be not only the largest of its kind across the country but has been adopted across the Texas A&M campus.

As a result, research has become a crucial part of many students’ undergraduate experience in College Station and, now, in McAllen, according to Dr. Negin Mirhosseini, a BIMS instructional assistant professor at the Higher Education Center.

“It is such a big deal, and often, it’s the students who are pushing for it,” she said. “I receive emails, I get questions during lectures, and I’ve even had prospective students who are considering this campus ask what kind of research we’re doing.

“These days, when many students are looking at a university, it’s something that’s important to them,” Mirhosseini said. “They want to do the science and not just the theoretical part of it. They want to experience how it feels to do actual work and generate actual data.”

A NEW PROGRAM Research, like anything at the McAllen campus, has had to start from scratch and several obstacles had to be overcome before students could begin.

For example, since Mirhosseini is an instructional professor, she doesn’t have her own active laboratory space, which is a requirement for Texas A&M’s LAUNCH undergraduate research program, so she partnered with faculty in College Station who do have active labs to support her students.

“Student research here doesn’t have to be the same as

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what the professor in College Station is working on; we just have to have the support of an active lab,” she said. “That was really just the start.”

Between the program just getting off the ground and the limits on in-person instruction because of COVID-19, it was a challenging first year for their research efforts, but Charles Lee, a senior BIMS student, said they were still able to have impactful experiences.

“The research community is definitely growing down here in McAllen,” Lee said. “And it's definitely persevering. Given our circumstances with the pandemic and some logistical challenges with not having access to a lot of high-powered research equipment and labs, it's been challenging, but our professors have been really good about trying to find ways to engage students with those kinds of experiences.”

VALUABLE EXPERIENCE

Even though Lee, a McAllen native, didn’t have a direct connection to Texas A&M, he’s wanted to be an Aggie since he was 9 years old. He heard about the new McAllen campus on the news and ultimately chose it because it allowed him to attend his dream school but still be able to take care of his horses at home.

“Hanging around with all of the 4-H kids growing up and hearing them all talk about A&M, I became excited about A&M early on and never wanted to go anywhere else,” Lee said. “My parents actually made me apply somewhere else just in case it didn’t work out with A&M, but if it would have been up to me, I only would have applied to A&M.”

His research has been related to the COVID-19 pandemic; Mirhosseini challenged her students to design an antiviral

for COVID-19, and through reviewing literature and modeling, Lee designed different molecules that could be used for antiviral development.

When the campus was able to host an undergraduate research conference, Lee presented his work and said the whole experience gave him more insight into the pandemic.

“For me, research brings a lot more insight into what you're studying and what's really happening,” Lee said. “It’s one thing to learn and just pass the class because you want to, but for me, I have a drive to figure out why things happen the way they do. It really gives me a much deeper understanding of the world. That’s really the big reason why I jumped into doing undergraduate research.”

Even though it’s unlikely that an undergraduate research project will receive funding, or even that the student will continue with it after graduation, research can still have a big impact on students. Lee said just being involved with his project has already possibly changed his career path after he graduates next year.

“Walking into college I was like, ‘I'm just going to medical school; I'm going to be a surgeon,’ and that's it,” he said. “But interacting with Dr. Mirhosseini and doing a few undergraduate research projects have skewed my thinking from doing just straight medical school to now doing an MD-Ph.D. program. So that's the ultimate dream goal now. I haven't decided whether I want to do a blend of surgery and research or just do research solely, but I for sure would like to eventually go on and do research as part of my career.”

Lee said all of that is a credit to Mirhosseini, who actively encourages students to get more involved in research.

“I know how modest Dr. Mirhosseini is, but she’s been

The Texas A&M Higher Education Center in McAllen
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the driving factor behind growing these opportunities,” he said. “One of my goals in coming to A&M was to do undergraduate research, but I knew I might be giving that up by coming to the McAllen campus.

“I asked her if she would be interested (in supporting Lee’s desire to conduct research) and she said, ‘Absolutely, we’re going to do this; this is Texas A&M—we can make anything happen,’” Lee said. “She got everything set up, and this year, I’m going to be able to do the thesis program here in McAllen thanks to her.”

RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME

Mirhosseini’s path to McAllen has a few more twists than Lee’s, but the short version is a classic story of being in the right place at the right time.

Originally from Kerman, Iran, where she attended the veterinary college at the University of Kerman as an undergraduate, she attended the CVMBS in College Station for her graduate work and received her master’s degree in veterinary microbiology in 2008 and then a Ph.D. in 2011.

Afterward, she moved to the University of Oklahoma, and then to have a more flexible schedule and take care of her new family, she started at Oklahoma City Community College.

Eventually, she moved with her husband to the Rio Grande Valley and was teaching at the University of Texas Rio

Grande Valley and South Texas College when, through the now-retired Dr. Susan Payne, she heard that the CVMBS was bringing the BIMS program to McAllen.

“It was like ‘oh wow, really, seriously?’” she said. “Dr. Payne told her former colleagues in the BIMS program that she had a former student in the area who would be a good fit if they were looking for a microbiologist. I interviewed for the job, and I got it. It was just really lucky. It was the right time and the right moment to be here.”

NEXT STEPS

Now that they’ve gotten a research program off the ground, Mirhosseini and others at the McAllen campus are trying to figure out how to continue growing the program.

One of their hurdles is simply space—the Higher Education Center has a microbiology lab that can be used for both teaching and research, but that’s just one space.

“We’ve gotten a lot of support,” Mirhosseini said. “Dr. Christopher Quick (Aggie Research Scholars program founder) and Dr. Michael Criscitiello (CVMBS associate dean for Research & Graduate Studies) are trying to expand the program, but it’s like renting a house while building a house. We’re starting something and we want to do it successfully so that we can attract more people, more money, and more facilities.” ■

Lee and Mirhosseini
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SERVICE HOSPITAL RESEARCH GIVING STUDENTS Dr. Gerald Parker
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“I’ve worked on biodefense, health security, and public health preparedness my entire career, and I’ve had ups and downs and successes and failures. But it’s always gratifying to be part of national and global challenges focused on trying to save lives and get our economy and nation back on track.”

Dr. Gerald Parker has served on the front lines during many biodefense and health security issues, but through his work as a federal adviser during the COVID-19 pandemic and as part of Texas’ largest and most complex vaccination campaign, he was able to play an important role in modern public health history.

In the medical field, the stakes are almost always high because every decision a doctor makes can impact the life of a patient. But when you’re making decisions that can affect the lives of millions of people, those are the highest possible stakes.

Being involved in those kinds of decisions is how Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVMBS) associate dean for Global One Health Dr. Gerald Parker spent parts of the last two years, first in Washington, D.C., as a senior adviser to the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and later as a member of the Texas Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel (EVAP).

Assisting the federal government in its response to a pandemic that mostly affects humans is a long way from the types of things most veterinary students envision themselves doing, but Parker still credits his early years at the CVMBS as giving him the foundation he needed for public health and medical preparedness.

“My veterinary education launched me,” he said. “It got me thinking about how animal health is also public health. It gave me that ability to think, early on in my career, about how public health is an extension of herd health, and it is all One Health.

“Now, more people are thinking about zoonotic diseases and how those can jump from animals to humans and back to animals,” he said. “The pandemic has heightened people's awareness that our world is interconnected in many ways, that the human and animal and environmental nexus is important.”

ENGAGING WARP SPEED

Parker is no stranger to the halls of Washington, D.C. After a 26-year military career, he spent a decade with not only the HHS, but also the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense. So when he was called to the HHS in May 2020 by colleague Dr. Bob Kadlec, Parker was ready for the challenge.

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In D.C., he helped make recommendations to and supported the senior leadership team on a number of fronts. Because so little was known about the virus early in the pandemic, the federal government had the same issue everyone else did in making sure they had enough people to operate.

“Organizations at all levels have been challenged with their continuity of operations,” Parker said. “It was a trying time for everybody, and part of my day-to-day activities included our own continuity of operations to keep morale up, keeping everybody staying positive and testing negative. We had to bolster each other's morale to keep going because we had a very important mission and that was saving lives and protecting Americans.”

One of the things Parker is proudest of is his involvement with Operation Warp Speed, the federal government and the biotechnology industry’s program that fast-tracked COVID vaccines. The plan was already underway when Parker arrived, but he helped coordinate efforts and had a front row seat to the accelerated development of the vaccines.

“Operation Warp Speed was an extraordinary public health achievement and it is not getting the recognition it deserves,” he said. “It’s just extraordinary that we had two vaccines authorized for use in less than a year.

“It was an incredible effort, built on a foundation of over 20 years of investments in biodefense and public health preparedness, but it was Operation Warp Speed’s leadership who had that clarity of focus to channel the power of the federal government through resources and authorities, coupled to a willing and able vaccine industry and bioeconomy that made it possible,” Parker said.

That was one of the more impressive things he’s been associated with in his career, to be on the front lines and see leadership—from scientists, the military, multiple governmental agencies, and the private sector—operate effectively without regard to traditional organizational silos and, despite what many of the public may think, isolated from politics.

“Leadership and program management discipline drove day-to-day decisions and enabled the early recognition of problems for quick elevation to the highest levels of government for a quick resolution. This was coupled to the best scientific leadership, with experience in the vaccine industry, who created this unbelievably high-performing group,” he said. “They had singular focus and commitment and they stayed isolated from the political environment of Washington, D.C. All of that was critical to their success.”

THE EVEN GREATER CHALLENGE

Developing the vaccines, challenging as it was, was not the most difficult part of the process. Once developed and

proven safe and effective, the government, public health authorities, and healthcare system had to distribute and administer vaccines.

In the fall of 2020, Parker was asked to join the Texas EVAP to advise the state on vaccine allocation priorities. Knowing that the vaccines would be a very scarce medical resource at first, the group—comprising experts on health policy, public health, healthcare administration, and the actual vaccine providers—began working on distribution plans and allocation priorities.

“I’ve served on many advisory panels in my career, and this was by far the most engaged, most deliberate, and most thoughtful,” he said. “Sometimes we had intense discussions because the stakes are so high with the recommendations we’re making. These are huge decisions that must be made when you’re trying to do what’s best with a very scarce resource that has the potential to save many lives.”

One of their early decisions was to go in a different direction from the recommendations that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Academies of Sciences had previously published.

Those recommendations were to vaccinate frontline healthcare workers in the 1A category first, followed by essential workers by priority occupations in the 1B priority.

But according to Parker, when the EVAP was looking at the most recent data, the vast majority of deaths and serious cases were happening in the older population and people with comorbidities without regard for occupation. So the EVAP recommended vaccine group 1B include people over 65 and those over 16 with comorbidities, regardless of occupation. It was a decision that other states and organizations, including the CDC, would later pivot to as well.

“We looked nationally, but focused on Texas, and asked what the data was telling us, what the science was telling us, and what the epidemiology was telling us,” he said. “The data told us that over 95% of the deaths occur in people over 60 years and older, regardless of comorbidities or occupations, so that's where people were dying.

“We really couldn't identify a specific occupation that was at higher risk than other occupations,” he said. “If you were over 16 with an identified comorbidity and in the workforce regardless, you were eligible under the 1B priority.”

For Parker, one of the frustrating things of working behind the scenes was the intense public and media criticism of the early vaccine rollout.

“There was a lot of criticism about the rough or slow start to the vaccine rollout; some of it was well founded,” he said. “Could it have been better? Yes. Like many things during the pandemic, the vaccine rollout could have been communicated beforehand and as the vaccination campaign began.

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“It is important to understand that this is the largest and most complex undertaking of a vaccination campaign we'd ever embarked on, in public health history, really, under this tight of a timeframe,” he said. “We knew there would be hiccups along the way, particularly as you're rolling out something brand new and having to develop and use systems that aren't used on a day-to-day basis, like vaccine hubs.

“It's like my world in the past, in national security, you're always going to have a fog of war,” he added. “That's natural.”

Despite the challenges and frustrations, though, and even after a career of public service, it’s still satisfying to be a part of something so big that it has the ability to help people across all walks of life.

“I’ve worked on biodefense, health security, and public health preparedness my entire career, and I’ve had ups and downs and successes and failures,” he said. “But it’s always gratifying to be part of national and global challenges focused on trying to save lives and get our economy and nation back on track.”

KEEPING OUR GUARD UP

Despite the successes, something that Parker can’t help but think about is whether more could have been done before the pandemic hit.

“I, and many of my colleagues, forewarned of a pandemic, but the country wasn't prepared,” he said. “So I feel some

responsibility. What could have I done to catalyze more attention to our preparedness needs? We all think about that.”

That’s why he’s now focused on getting through the COVID-19 pandemic while keeping up the pressure to prepare for future pandemics and biological threats from any cause—whether natural, accidental, or intentional in origin.

“COVID-19 is not our last pandemic, and while our society is very much focused on tomorrow, we don’t think longterm, unfortunately,” he said. “At the longest, a U.S. Senator is elected for a six-year term, so that’s our society and human nature; we have a short memory and attention span. Hopefully, we will avoid short-term memory this time and remind our elected officials that preparedness and One Health are important issues.

“Emerging infectious disease outbreaks with pandemic potential are increasing with alarming frequency, even before COVID, and they will continue after COVID,” Parker said. “We must put more emphasis on preventing an outbreak anywhere in the world from becoming an epidemic or pandemic. One Health preventive solutions are needed at the animal, human, and environmental nexus where outbreaks start. But, if prevention fails, we must be better prepared to respond than we were with COVID-19.” ■

A rendering of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
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Licensed professional counselor Michael Hawkins brings his experience in comforting those in difficult situations to support the clients and hardworking staff at the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

Texas A&M University was there at a critical time in Michael Hawkins’ life.

“I've always had a severe learning disability, and academics were always extremely challenging for me,” he said. “But during my time at Texas A&M, I had professors and counselors who really helped me get through it, who helped me academically. Every time I went to a professor and said, ‘I'm struggling with this. Can you help me out?’ they would work with me.”

Now, as the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital’s (VMTH) first full-time counselor, he’s hoping to return the favor.

“When I found this job, I saw it as an opportunity to help students, staff, and clients and just be there for their critical moments, too, just like people were there for me,” he said. “That was one of the really exciting things for me.”

Hawkins joined the VMTH at a time when more and more attention is being paid to the mental health side of the veterinary industry. He says it’s a dream opportunity to come back and make an impact at a place that had such an impact on him.

His challenges go back to childhood, when he learned that he had a severe type of dyslexia, which not only caused him to switch information around as he processed it, but also when he tried to recall it later.

“If I had to learn 123, my brain might process it as 321 or 312,” he said. “Then, as I recalled the information, my brain would scramble it again. It might be 132 at that point. I attended a school for children with dyslexia called The Winston School until the sixth grade. At that point in my life, graduating from high school would have been a huge accomplishment.”

Hawkins wasn’t satisfied with that outlook, though. He moved to a college prep high school, where things were even tougher; he studied at least three hours per night just to pass. When he was tested again, he was told that his disability was still severe and even if he graduated high school, it was even more unlikely he would be able to graduate from college.

However, he embraced that challenge also.

Michael Hawkins
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“My five years at Texas A&M were the most challenging I had ever faced,” he said. “I had to study harder than I ever had before. If I had a test, I would start studying weeks in advance, for hours and hours, to get a ‘C.’

“It was a constant battle for me to keep trying and to stay motivated, but I would often go to my professors for help, and every professor I approached was not only helpful, but encouraging,” he said. “They spent extra time with me and were very supportive.”

He originally studied finance but switched to psychology because, at the time, he wanted to help dyslexic children and their families.

“Many people think that learning disabilities only affect one’s academic life,” he said. “The reality is that it can have an impact on every aspect of a person’s life. It affects a person emotionally, socially, and even physically.”

Hawkins graduated from Texas A&M in 1991 and went on to earn a master’s degree in social work from St. Edward’s University in Austin. It was at St. Edwards that he discovered a passion for law enforcement that would guide him to a new career path—working with the Houston Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Response Team.

Hawkins spent a decade in that role, during which he rode in a patrol car with an officer and responded to individuals in “severe crisis.”

“We responded to ‘the worst of the worst’ calls,” he said. “But one of the things I really liked about it—and I go back to my time at A&M—is that learning to overcome my disability actually helped me focus and problem solve quickly when I was on a call.

“I could go into these chaotic situations and the discipline that I had learned helped me,” he said. “In their most difficult times and challenges, I was able to connect with them, get them help, bring some kindness and compassion, and peacefully resolve the situation.”

Now, at the VMTH, Hawkins is using that experience as he works with the VMTH staff and clients who are facing difficult decisions and situations.

One of the challenges he has witnessed at the VMTH is that sometimes people don’t seek out the emotional support they need because of a perceived social stigma around having an emotional attachment to an animal.

“I’ve had people tell me that others have told them, ‘oh, it’s just a pet,’” he said. “But for a lot of people, pets are a part of their family, especially during COVID-19 when people can’t have the normal social interactions that they usually do. Animals provide that same comfort and companionship. So I have to tell people, ‘This animal is part of your family; it provided you support. Ignore anyone who’s saying otherwise.’”

Hawkins also uses his skills to support the hospital staff,

something he said he’s looking forward to doing more of, especially because the mental health of those in the veterinary industry is something that was overlooked for too long, even as suicide rates rose in recent years in the profession. The VMTH is one of several veterinary hospitals that have added more support for the mental health of the staff.

“I see accomplishing that mission by helping the doctors and staff when they need to debrief, maybe taking on some of that emotional load,” he said. “Hopefully, by addressing the emotional side of things, they can also focus on the care of the animals.

“Veterinary medicine is more of an exact science, but I see the work that I do as more like an art,” he said. “Each situation is a little different and requires different skills, application, or interaction.”

Hawkins’ experience in dealing with chaotic situations also made him a perfect fit for the Veterinary Emergency Team (VET); Hawkins has deployed with the team once since joining VMTH.

“I was a part of a lot of crisis scenes in Houston and went into really active, very large, chaotic scenes,” he said. “I hope to be able to go into some of these scenes with the VET and provide support in that sense; do debriefings, if needed; and help make sure the team members are taking care of themselves.”

Even though the world of veterinary medicine is different from the types of scenes he responded to in Houston, he said there are universal aspects to the job.

“Grief is grief, and sadness is sadness,” Hawkins said. “When I was on patrol, I experienced people feeling profound grief, and here, the clients I’m speaking with at the hospital may be dealing with profound grief. Whether it is for an animal, a person, or something else, there are similarities.” ■

Michael Hawkins
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One out of every four American households with pets experiences barriers to veterinary care, according to a report by the Access to Veterinary Care Coalition.

The Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) seeks to change that through a variety of outreach initiatives, including a new internship program focused on reaching underserved communities.

“Similar to human health care, there are traditionally pockets of individuals—from rural, urban, and minority

communities—that are not necessarily well-served by veterinary medicine,” said Dr. Katie McCool, a CVMBS clinical assistant professor. “As a state institution, it's really important for us to give back to the Texas community, especially those underserved groups.”

The Underserved Communities Internship was created by the CVMBS’ Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (VSCS) to give recent veterinary graduates the opportunity to learn about diversity and inclusion in veterinary medicine while completing a 12-month rotating internship at the Texas A&M Small Animal Teaching Hospital (SATH).

Dr. Jendaya O’Grady, a 2021 graduate of the VirginiaMaryland College of Veterinary Medicine, joined the CVMBS as its first Underserved Communities Intern in June, bringing with her a wealth of experience and a passion for serving others.

The Small Animal Teaching Hospital’s new Underserved Communities Internship helps recent veterinary graduates expand upon an important part of the profession—serving others and giving back to local communities.
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During her year in this position, O’Grady has gained valuable skills and knowledge to support her future career, a part of which she hopes to dedicate to providing veterinary care to underserved individuals and communities.

GIVING BACK, GLOBALLY

Growing up in northern Virginia, O’Grady loved joining her father, an equine veterinarian and farrier, as he went on farm calls to treat horses.

“I still remember, very vividly, riding in my car seat as we drove to farms and then handing him tools while he worked on a horse,” O’Grady said. “My love for veterinary medicine really started with a love of farriery.”

Her relationship with her father also instilled a love for international travel and serving others, which prompted O’Grady to go on several veterinary mission trips around the

world during her years as an undergraduate and veterinary student.

“I have traveled to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to work with the Havasupai American Indians and to Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula to participate in educational workshops for veterinarians and equine owners,” she said. “I also did one project for about six weeks in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, working in a human hospital to gain perspective about the different treatments, diseases, and resources in different regions.”

Some of her most rewarding experiences have been during her six annual visits to the Dominican Republic with the outreach program Project Samana.

“Through Project Samana, we provide preventative care for the working horses in the Dominican Republic and promote sustainable management through wound care, nutrition, and proper loading,” she said. “We also put on workshops on appropriate hoof trimming. Proper hoof care improves the overall health and work capacity of these horses and provides jobs for people within their communities.

“What really instilled my love for these projects was seeing the progress year after year, even if we were only there for a week or two each year,” she said. “We once did an enucleation (eye removal) on a horse that was used to carry tourists up a mountain and we couldn't follow up, but the next year we came back to find that the horse had healed appropriately and is still doing wonderfully. The tourists hadn't even noticed that the horse only had one eye.

“Little things like that really make you feel like you're making a difference and what you're doing is important,” she said. “Participating in these projects and feeling like I had a purpose, that this is what I was meant to do, just fueled me and motivated me to continue along this path.”

SEEING THE BIGGER PICTURE

Despite being influenced by her father’s work with horses and her equine work abroad, O’Grady discovered a passion for small animal medicine and ophthalmology while in veterinary school.

“If you had asked me if I would be interested in ophthalmology four years ago, I would've laughed at you,”

“Giving back to communities by providing services and education is something that I plan to pursue throughout my career, but I originally thought I was going to have to put those things on hold during an internship and residency.”
- DR. JENDAYA O’GRADY
Dr. Jendaya O'Grady and veterinary technician Karen Chapman
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O’Grady said. “But I discovered that I really love the idea that I can focus and learn everything there is to know about the eye. The eye is quite literally a window to the body and can tell you so much about what is going on internally. Many times, we catch things within the eye before the animal’s even had a full body workup; that’s incredibly fascinating to me.”

Even as a student, she began dreaming of ways to combine her love for serving under-reached communities and her new passion for ophthalmology. When she heard about the new internship at Texas A&M, it was the perfect fit.

“Giving back to communities by providing services and education is something that I plan to pursue throughout my career, but I originally thought I was going to have to put those things on hold during an internship and residency,” she said. “When I saw this opportunity, I thought, ‘Wow, I can make a difference while I’m doing my internship and build those bridges between ophthalmology and giving back.’”

During her year at the SATH, O’Grady has worked on a research project focused on finding new ways to bring the veterinary ophthalmology specialty to underserved communities in Texas and beyond.

“Many veterinarians and clients in underserved communities may not have access to specialties such as ophthalmology for a variety of reasons, location and

“When I envision a fulfilling career, it includes giving back to the communities that nurtured my love of veterinary medicine, providing service to individuals who rely on animals for their livelihood, and teaching the next generation of students.”

- DR. JENDAYA O’GRADY

finances being the most common,” she said. “Within the last few years, the literature from human healthcare describing the provision of eye care to underserved populations has grown, but the veterinary literature remains very limited. While it feels like we may be starting from just above ground zero, it also means there are many avenues to explore.”

During her internship, she analyzed the need for ophthalmic services and the challenges those living in Texas’ underserved communities currently face in receiving specialty care for their pets. Then, she explored a variety of potential options for addressing that need, including telemedicine, improved communication between general practitioners and specialists, and partnerships with shelters or clinics in need of minor ophthalmic surgeries.

After she completes the Underserved Communities Internship, O’Grady plans to pursue a residency in ophthalmology and then a career in academia to give back to the next generation of veterinary students. Throughout that time, she also hopes to continue her outreach projects around the world.

“When I envision a fulfilling career, it includes giving back to the communities that nurtured my love of veterinary medicine, providing service to individuals who rely on animals for their livelihood, and teaching the next generation of students,” O’Grady said.

“I love my animals as much as anyone and I’m really lucky to have veterinary clinics here to take them to, but not everyone has those means,” she said. “We're really blessed that we can go to underserved communities to provide services and educate others in a sustainable way so that they can continue to care for their animals even when we aren’t there.

ONE FOR ALL, ALL FOR ONE

Creation of the Underserved Communities Internship first began in late 2019, when Dr. Jon Levine, VSCS department head, and Dr. Kenita Rogers, former CVMBS executive associate dean and director for Diversity & Inclusion, began brainstorming new ways to incorporate diversity, inclusion, and outreach at the SATH.

“Pet healthcare is expensive and we do very high-level stuff here, so we have been dreaming about how we

O'Grady auscultating a miniature horse in Costa Rica
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can open the hospital doors more,” Levine said. “Private industry is helping us by creating more pet health insurance, which is breaking down some of those barriers, but we want to do more. We want to keep looking for opportunities to be inclusive and impact the whole state.”

They approached VSCS faculty about creating an internship with an added emphasis on diversity and inclusion and were shocked and thrilled when more than a third of its faculty members volunteered to help.

The resulting working group—including Levine, Rogers, and McCool, as well as Drs. Nance Algert, Brad Bennett, Audrey Cook, Kate Creevy, Jackie Davidson, Ali Diesel, Lindsey Gilmour, Sharon Kerwin, Christine Rutter, Tracy Vemulapalli, and Emma Warry—developed the program with two overarching goals—to improve the SATH’s outreach to underserved communities and to promote diversity within veterinary medicine.

“Any time you bring in people who have a different perspective or life background than you, it makes you better. The more people we can bring in—especially those early in their careers like students, residents, and interns— the more really novel ideas we're going to have,” Levine said. “We're going to hear about things that we may not have

heard about before. We're going to be able to have some difficult conversations that are going to make us stronger.”

As the first Underserved Communities Intern, O’Grady will help the working group determine what the future of the program will look like. According to McCool, she is the perfect person for this role.

“We were super excited to have Jendaya join our program,” McCool said. “She developed her passion for veterinary mission work early on, and we are really lucky that she ended up coming here for the internship. She's done a lot of thinking about how to reach under-resourced communities and has a lot of exciting ideas on ways we can provide care to folks who aren't able to travel to Texas A&M.”

In the future, the SATH plans to host two Underserved Communities Interns each year and will continue to seek applicants with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

“For the health and advancement of our profession, it's important to make sure all voices are represented at the table,” McCool said. “In addition to promoting diversity within veterinary medicine, I’m looking forward to continuing to promote our outreach initiatives and bring veterinary medical health care to more areas within our local and regional community.” ■

O'Grady
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SERVICE HOSPITAL RESEARCH GIVING STUDENTS Dr. Stacy Eckman
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“I love A&M to my very core. Because I was a student here, I have an innate connection to this university. In any job, you want to be the very best that you can be and contribute to the forward progress of your organization. But being a former student just makes it that much closer to my heart.”

As the new Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital associate dean, Dr. Stacy Eckman is bringing a wealth of experience and Aggie spirit to her new position.

As a former student, Aggie veterinarian, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) faculty member, and newly appointed associate dean for the CVMBS’ Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH), Dr. Stacy Eckman truly bleeds maroon.

Early on, Eckman decided to follow her family’s tradition of attending Texas A&M and didn’t even consider applying to other universities.

Today, she proudly wears her Aggie ring to work, is often seen in maroon, and enjoys every chance she gets to see Reveille, the First Lady of Aggieland, for whom she was the primary veterinarian for many years.

In her new role as associate dean for hospital operations, she will have a profound impact on Texas A&M’s VMTH, which, in addition to being renowned for its excellent patient care, plays a key role in the education of Aggie veterinary students and supports the world-class research taking place at the CVMBS.

FINDING A HOME IN AGGIELAND

Originally a civil engineering major, Eckman rediscovered her childhood love of veterinary medicine during her freshman year of college while helping care for a friend’s show steer. After changing her major to biomedical sciences (BIMS) and completing all but three hours of her degree, Eckman began taking veterinary classes as part of the CVMBS’ Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) Class of 2001.

“I really enjoyed my veterinary school experience,” Eckman said. “I made some of the best friends of my whole life in vet school.”

After graduating and spending eight years as a small animal practitioner in Corpus Christi, she felt compelled to return to Texas A&M, this time as an educator and clinician in the SATH’s emergency and primary care services.

“I love A&M to my very core,” Eckman said. “Because I was a student here, I have an innate connection to this university. In any job, you want to be the very best that you can be and contribute to the forward progress of your organization. But being a former student just makes it that much closer to my heart.”

Teaching quickly became a new passion for Eckman as she took on both preclinical courses and fourth-year clinical rotations at the SATH. While much at the CVMBS had changed since her time as a veterinary student, she felt that the general passion for training the next generation of veterinarians was the same—and still is, to this day.

“The faculty are almost completely different from when I was here as a student, but their level of commitment has been consistent,” she said. “Our faculty are exquisitely committed to students, committed to being here, committed to the research mission, and committed to teaching.”

SETTING PRIORITIES

As time went on, Eckman took on more and more responsibility at the SATH, first as a section chief and then as the first chief medical officer for the CVMBS’ Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (VSCS). In March, she began her first fully administrative role as an associate dean.

While she will have fewer teaching responsibilities in her

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new role, primarily because she will not be leading students in clinical rotations, Eckman still sees education as one of the VMTH’s top priorities.

“The teaching hospital is the pinnacle of the veterinary students’ learning; they're having to really incorporate all of the experiences they've had so far,” she said. “How you’re teaching students is just as important as what you’re teaching them. We’re teaching students not just to memorize and spit out information but how to be critical thinkers, how to find information on their own, and how to be curious about a problem and seek out an answer.”

Eckman is also focused on maintaining the VMTH’s excellent client service, patient care, and commitment to supporting research that has the potential to advance both veterinary and human medicine.

Having been a faculty member for more than a decade, Eckman said she also plans to use her connections at the CVMBS, and the larger veterinary community, to achieve her goals.

“Those relationships can be used to the hospital’s advantage and as a jumping off point to build on things we're doing within the hospital system,” she said. “I want people to know that we can be a resource for them, whether it's getting cases in for clinical trials or providing tertiary support they cannot get anywhere else, and I really do think the relationships are mutually beneficial.”

“The teaching hospital is the pinnacle of the veterinary students’ learning; they're having to really incorporate all of the experiences they've had so far. How you’re teaching students is just as important as what you’re teaching them.”

INTRODUCING POSITIVE CHANGES

Among Eckman’s first actions is introducing three new initiatives to address areas for improvement that have been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first two involve improving the hospital’s communications and business processes, but the third is the one that most excites her.

“My third initiative is to improve our culture within the hospital system through a new program called Culture Keepers,” Eckman said. “We want to empower the entire VMTH team to feel that we all have the same input and impact. We get better when everybody’s throwing their ideas out and sharing, and we want to make sure everybody has the place to do that.”

This new program will involve training opportunities and the designation of Culture Keepers among faculty and staff to model the attributes found among positive,

Eckman and a veterinary student
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hardworking team players who are able to have honest, kind conversations about conflict and power.

While the pandemic did create many challenges for the VMTH, Eckman has found that it also highlighted opportunities to enhance both the client and employee experiences.

For instance, many clients enjoy the ease of the curbside drop off and pick up procedures, so Eckman decided to continue providing that option even once clients were allowed back in the buildings.

The pandemic also prompted the VMTH to begin several new wellness campaigns and programs for its employees, which Eckman is committed to maintaining.

“There have definitely been some pros that will continue as we’re coming forward out of COVID,” she said. “We will keep in place a lot of the things that we've created to help with morale and wellness within our teams and work to provide more awareness of and solutions to the challenges we all face in veterinary medicine.”

ENTERING A NEW ERA

No matter what the future holds, Eckman is sure that the SATH will continue providing patients with the best

care while training world-class future veterinarians and supporting the CVMBS’ talented research scientists.

“As the oldest veterinary school in the state of Texas and one of the top-tier veterinary schools out there, we have a history of excellence and graduating exceptional veterinarians,” Eckman said. “If the hospital system can help us make them even better yet, by fine tuning the things they could do better or increasing their knowledge base, we should continue to push on that level of excellence.

“The best thing we can do is continual improvement,” she said. “A lot of people don't like that, because what they hear when you say that is ‘constant change,’ but I think that if we continuously evolve and build on our tradition of excellence, we can be even better than we already are. I really do believe that to my core.”

VMTH assistant director Galen Pahl, Dr. Stacy Eckman, and veterinary technician Elizabeth Hinton
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SERVICE HOSPITAL RESEARCH GIVING STUDENTS

When a little girl’s dream foal suffered a life-threatening injury, a community of horse lovers came together to support his recovery.

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SERVICE HOSPITAL RESEARCH GIVING STUDENTS Dr. Jeffrey Watkins, Blue Thunder, Lady Bee Packin’, and Dr. Kati Glass

At 5 years old, many kids dream of owning a horse. Savannah Mize, however, only wanted one specific horse— the baby of her mare, Lady Bee Packin’, and the reining stallion Gunner Dun It Again, owned by Tripol Ranch.

Growing up with a mother who worked in the performance horse industry, this was not an unusual request for Savannah, who had been riding since she was 3 years old.

“I told Savannah we couldn't afford it this year and she said, ‘Well, can I just call and ask?’” said Skye Mize, Savannah’s mother and owner of WhoaZone Equine. “She calls the breeding farm and just started rattling off all these things like ‘I think this would be a great cross, and I was just wondering if we could work a deal.’”

To everyone’s surprise, Savannah’s determination paid off when the stud’s owners agreed. When the foal was born, Savannah immediately fell in love.

Lady Bee Packin’, aka Kim, gave birth on May 9 to the healthy colt, which Savannah promptly named Blue Thunder. For almost two months, she devoted every day to caring for him at their family ranch in Franklin.

One day, in a devastating twist of fate, Blue Thunder came in from pasture not using his right front leg. Skye, who had previously worked as an equine veterinary technician, recognized that this was a serious injury, despite not knowing the cause.

“The reining community always comes running whenever someone needs help. You just don't ever think you're the one who's going to need help, but whenever you do, it sure is humbling to know that there's still good left in this world.”

- SKYE MIZE

“That walk back up to the barn to tell Savannah was the longest hundred-yard walk of my life,” she said.

Luckily, there was an entire community of equine enthusiasts willing to help, including a team of large animal veterinarians at the Texas A&M Large Animal Teaching Hospital (LATH).

THE PERFECT FIX

When Dr. Cameron Stoudt-Donnell, an equine veterinarian at Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation in Whitesboro, heard about Blue Thunder’s injury, she immediately recommended that he be seen by veterinarians at Texas A&M.

Preliminary radiographs showed that Blue Thunder had broken both his radius and ulna, the two bones just below his elbow joint that compose the upper half of his leg.

“Fractures of the upper limb are fairly common, with the elbow being the most common. With this type of radius break, the horse almost always breaks the ulna too,” said Dr. Jeffrey Watkins, a professor of large animal surgery at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS).

He and CVMBS clinical assistant professor Dr. Kati Glass spent five hours in the operating room repairing Blue Thunder’s breaks with metal plates spanning the fracture and held in place with screws to provide stability necessary for healing.

What made Blue Thunder’s case more challenging, however, was that one of the breaks went through the elbow’s growth plate, giving the surgeons much less room to attach a standard bone plate.

Fortunately, a T-plate developed by the AO VET expert group, led by Watkins, proved to be the perfect fit for his injury.

“The surgery was fairly straightforward and the new plate worked very well,” Watkins said. “Interestingly enough, the company that markets the implants, DPS (DePuy Synthes), offered to donate all of the implants after I shared Blue Thunder’s story with them. It's amazing what a little girl and her story can do to bring out the best in people.”

As it turns out, Savannah and Blue Thunder’s tale would inspire many others to give, too.

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Savannah Mize and Blue Thunder
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A COMMUNITY OF SUPPORT

When Skye’s close friend Ashli Critterman heard about Blue Thunder’s injury, she immediately reached out to her contacts in the equine reining industry to see if anyone would be willing to help.

“It got out pretty quick that surgery was the only option,” Skye said. “My customers and clients, God bless them, came together and donated all kinds of things for a big benefit auction.”

Savannah, who loves painting almost as much as she loves horses, even donated a portrait of herself and Blue Thunder. By the time the auction was over, it had raised more than enough to cover the foal’s surgery.

“The reining community always comes running whenever someone needs help,” Skye said. “You just don't ever think you're the one who's going to need help, but whenever you do, it sure is humbling to know that there's still good left in this world. People are so willing to help everybody, even people they don't know.”

To continue the momentum, Skye and Savannah decided to use any money left over after Blue Thunder’s recovery to create the Blue Thunder Fund at the LATH for other girls whose horses need lifesaving care.

“We're not the first family that this has happened to, and we won't be the last,” Skye said.

SEEKING THE SPOTLIGHT

After two weeks of recovery at the LATH, Blue Thunder and Kim finally returned home in August, where they were met by an overjoyed Savannah.

“Thankfully, Blue Thunder is through the worst part already,” Glass said. “He's in the best bone-making phase of his whole life, so he’s in an ideal situation to heal.”

Over the next several months, Blue Thunder’s veterinary team will monitor his growth and development; if the implant spanning his growth plate begins to cause problems, the surgeons will remove it.

“One of the nice things is that we modified the technique a little bit in his case so we may not have to remove all the implants,” Watkins said.

Since the moment Savannah first began to dream of Blue Thunder, she hoped that they would one day compete as a reining team. Because of the foal’s swift and successful treatment, his injury shouldn’t impact his ability to perform, according to Glass and Watkins.

“I am so excited to have Blue Thunder home,” Savannah said. “I want to say thank you to all the people who helped me and him. I am confident we have a lot of riding to do in the future. Maybe I’ll teach him to paint with me and go on ‘America’s Got Talent.’ After that we can horse show… reining, of course.” ■

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SERVICE HOSPITAL RESEARCH GIVING STUDENTS Glass, Watkins, and Blue Thunder

One of the Texas A&M Small Animal Teaching Hospital’s smallest patients has a bright future thanks to his newly implanted pacemaker.

It’s not every day that veterinarians at the Texas A&M Small Animal Teaching Hospital (SATH) get to sew a pacemaker onto a beating heart roughly the size of a grape. In fact, until March 2021, the procedure had only been done twice at the hospital.

But when Hypnos, a 5-year-old ferret, arrived at the SATH with a very slow heart rate, a team of more than a dozen veterinary specialists, technicians, and students took on the challenge of helping the beloved pet return home healthy to his owner and ferret friends.

And a challenge it was, as this was the first ferret pacemaker procedure at the SATH in almost 10 years.

HITTING THE BOOKS

Hypnos’ experience began when owner Charles Teel took him to Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists in Houston after

noticing signs of lethargy and gastrointestinal issues. Their exotics specialist Dr. Becky Pacheco performed an electrocardiogram and discovered that Hypnos had a pathologic arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythm, called third-degree AV block.

“That's when, essentially, the top chamber and the bottom chamber of the heart aren't talking to one another and the signal cannot get from the top to the bottom of the heart to tell it to beat,” said SATH veterinary resident Dr. Blakeley Janacek, Hypnos’ primary cardiology doctor. “If the electrical bridge between the two is out, then the heart does not beat nearly as fast as it should.”

The best course of treatment for this condition, which is also seen in people and many other animals, is the surgical implantation of a pacemaker to manage the heartbeat with electrical impulses.

Pacheco suggested bringing Hypnos to Texas A&M, where veterinary cardiologists implant pacemakers on a regular basis. Because most of these patients are dogs, however, the Aggie veterinarians began doing research right away to learn as much as possible about other pacemaker cases in ferrets; they learned the first was reported in 2006.

Hypnos, the ferret
36 | CVMBS TODAY // SUMMER 2022 HOSPITAL

“That was homework that we all enjoyed,” Janacek said. “It was a fun adventure, with the benefit of getting to help a little guy.”

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

Once Hypnos arrived at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) for his operation, Janacek was joined by a large team of colleagues, including Dr. Ashley Saunders, a veterinary cardiologist and CVMBS professor; Dr. Vanna Dickerson, a veterinary surgeon and CVMBS assistant professor; Dr. Dalton Hindmarsh, an emergency & critical care veterinary resident; and Dr. Mauricio Lepiz, an anesthesiologist and CVMBS clinical associate professor.

In addition, numerous other residents, technicians, and fourth-year veterinary students played a role in ensuring the success of Hypnos’ procedure.

“I was just a very small piece of the puzzle,” Janacek said. “It was really, really important that we had everybody in place and that we were able to work together. That's one of the cool things about working here at Texas A&M.”

Although the SATH did not have an exotics specialist available for Hypnos’ case, Hindmarsh and fourth-year veterinary student Rachel Ellerd both had experience with ferrets and helped care for him before, during, and after the procedure.

“We wouldn't have been able to bring him in if Dr. Hindmarsh was not so comfortable working with ferrets,” Janacek said. “Rachel was also a good resource for anyone who had general ferret husbandry questions. She was super comfortable handling him, so she was a big asset to the team.”

Ellerd, a recent graduate who is specializing in exotic pet medicine, felt that fate was on her side in that she happened to be doing her cardiology rotation when Hypnos arrived at the SATH, which typically does not see many exotic pets. “I was able to use my background in exotics to help with his history-taking, physical exam, and treatment while he was here,” said Ellerd ‘21. “Being a part of the third ferret pacemaker surgery ever performed at Texas A&M and seeing so many specialists come together really made me excited for my future in exotic pet medicine.”

A TICKING CLOCK

As the surgery began, the veterinarians knew they would need to be extra careful while working on such a small animal, but they also needed to work quickly so Hypnos wasn’t under anesthesia for too long.

“The biggest concern was if the team could move fast enough, because once we start anesthesia, the heart rate can go down,” Janacek said. "It involves getting him anesthetized, positioned, prepped, and draped; a surgeon

Dr. Blakeley Janacek and Hypnos Alumna Rachel Ellerd and Hypnos SUMMER
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HOSPITAL SERVICE HOSPITAL RESEARCH GIVING STUDENTS

“It was good that his owner was able and willing to pursue the surgery. Every ferret owner I've ever met has been extremely kind and cares a lot about their little ferrets, but Hypnos’ owner was uniquely dedicated.”

getting into his abdomen and then his chest to sew the pacemaker onto his heart; and plugging the battery in—all with the clock ticking.

“There were moments of stress, but everyone was so enthusiastic and willing to work to help save the patient that we just plowed ahead, doing our best to get him paced, awake, and home doing ferret-like things,” she said.

As time went on, the veterinary team showed the depth of their talents as they worked to get everything done in time.

“We have a tremendous anesthesia team that facilitates a lot of things in this hospital and helps a lot of different species. They're fantastic—those are tiny little ferret vessels you're talking about putting catheters in,” Janacek said. “And Dr. Dickerson was the surgeon who sewed the pacemaker onto a very, very tiny beating heart, which is a really tremendous feat.”

Once the pacemaker was attached to the outer walls of the heart, its lead was connected to a battery pack that was placed in Hypnos’ abdomen.

When preparing Hypnos for surgery, the veterinary team also discovered a tumor on his pancreas called an insulinoma that was causing low blood glucose. Luckily, this tumor was easily removed during the pacemaker procedure.

About two hours after the surgery began, Hypnos was stitched up and ready to begin his recovery.

BACK TO ‘FERRET-LIKE’ THINGS Hypnos’ improvement was almost immediate. His blood glucose returned to normal levels within 48 hours of removing the tumor and he was already feeling playful the day after surgery.

Thanks to his new pacemaker, Hypnos’ heart will keep a steady rhythm at 120 beats per minute, allowing him to live the rest of his life without any danger from his heart condition.

Looking back, Janacek is proud of the team effort that went into ensuring Hypnos’ recovery, by both his veterinary team and devoted owner.

“He would not have had much of a life if we didn't do the procedure,” Janacek said. “It was good that his owner was able and willing to pursue the surgery. Every ferret owner I've ever met has been extremely kind and cares a lot about their little ferrets, but Hypnos’ owner was uniquely dedicated.” ■

Pacemaker inside of Hypnos
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The Youngs' three children, two dogs, and Baxter

After a 12-year-old Birman cat fell ill, his veterinary team made the fortuitous discovery of an extremely rare autoimmune condition never before seen at the Texas A&M Small Animal Teaching Hospital.

Baxter, a 12-year-old seal point Birman cat, tends to draw eyes wherever he goes.

“He is such a pretty cat,” said Baxter’s owner Erin Young. “He just prances around, looking beautiful and knowing that he's so beautiful. He's a joy for our family and he's a very special cat, to say the least.”

Young and her husband, William, fell in love with the Birman breed when their first cat together, another seal point named Socks—who passed away in 2008—joined their family.

“We wanted to get another male seal point Birman because we loved Socks so much,” Young said. “We were moving to London later that year and decided to wait until we got there to look for a Birman. They were kind of hard to find but we finally found a breeder with a litter of five kittens—four of whom were female chocolate points—and one was the male seal point I’d been searching for for such a long time.”

Baxter quickly established his place as “the boss of the house,” which included the Youngs’ three children and two small terrier dogs.

The Youngs’ extreme love for Baxter and his important role in their family made it all the more frightening when he suddenly became severely ill in December 2020.

“We were at our vacation house at Lake Athens, when, one day, he started acting weird and foaming at the mouth,” Young said. “He looked terrible, so I rushed into the vet in Athens. They thought he had a urinary blockage, but he just kept getting worse and worse.”

Wanting to get Baxter a diagnosis as soon as possible, Young brought him to the Texas A&M Small Animal Teaching Hospital (SATH), where he had previously been treated for liver disease.

Upon arrival, Baxter was checked in to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and his veterinary team began running tests. His doctors found three major issues: asthma, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and pancreatitis.

Thankfully, the pancreatitis was resolved during Baxter’s stay at the SATH and his chronic issues of asthma and IBD could be managed at home with a specialized diet and some environmental changes.

But during one of Baxter’s rechecks with his veterinarian in Dallas, the pathologist running his blood test noticed

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something abnormal, which led to a surprising diagnosis when his blood test was rechecked at Texas A&M.

“The clinical pathologist looking at a blood smear from Baxter’s bloodwork found that his red blood cells were agglutinating (clumping together) at room temperature, but they did not agglutinate when at his normal, warmer body temperature,” said Dr. Leigh Ann Howard, a third-year internal medicine resident at the SATH and the primary veterinarian on Baxter’s case. “This is consistent with cold agglutinin disease (CAD), a rare autoimmune blood disorder.”

With CAD, antibodies that attack red blood cells have enhanced activity at temperatures of less than 99° F. Although the disease was first reported in cats in 1983, it has been very rarely diagnosed.

Generally, agglutination can cause serious anemia, leaving a patient without enough red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. Because Baxter’s cells only clump together at temperatures cooler than his body temperature, which is normally between 100.5 and 102.5° F, he is unlikely to experience any consequences of CAD.

However, there is still a chance of danger if Baxter were exposed to cold temperatures for an extended period of time.

“Cold temperatures can cause agglutination in the small blood vessels in his extremities, including his ear tips, tail

tip, and nose,” Howard said. “This can cause the skin of those areas to become necrotic and shed off.

“We hope that as long as Baxter remains indoors in a comfortable temperature and does not experience hypothermia, he should not have problems with his blood agglutinating,” she said.

Considering how devoted Baxter’s family is to him, his veterinarians are confident they will keep him warm and cozy for the rest of his life.

“Baxter is a very sweet and handsome guy. He is also the first CAD patient that I, or any of our medicine team, from what I gather, have ever seen,” Howard said. “It is a rare diagnosis, but because it does not cause clinical disease in most cases, it might fly under the radar, and healthy cats may have CAD that is never diagnosed.”

While the cause of Baxter’s CAD may never be known, Howard believes it could be related to genetics or an underlying condition.

“For now, we will monitor Baxter for signs of illness and perform periodic bloodwork to monitor for the development of anemia and/or severely elevated globulins, which are proteins that form the antibodies that are causing the agglutination in cold temperatures,” Howard said.

Baxter will be getting rechecks and bloodwork to monitor his CAD and other chronic conditions every three months, alternating between Texas A&M and his primary veterinarian, Dr. Stephanie Chritton ’87, at Hillside Veterinary Clinic.

“Dr. Chritton really goes above and beyond,” Young said. “She has been such a great advocate for Baxter and a great liaison between Hillside and Texas A&M. She’s a phenomenal vet.”

In the meantime, Baxter is now back to normal and living without any consequences of his CAD.

“We are very grateful that his veterinarians at Texas A&M figured it out,” Young said. “Texas A&M also saved one of our little dogs who had a very rare disease. He was so sick, even dying, but no one could figure it out. Then I took him to Texas A&M and they diagnosed him in a day.

“After that, I decided that if I ever have a very ill animal, the pet's going straight to Texas A&M. I don't know if Baxter’s outcome would've been the same if we had gone somewhere else.” ■

“Dr. Chritton really goes above and beyond. She has been such a great advocate for Baxter and a great liaison between Hillside and Texas A&M. She’s a phenomenal vet.”
Fourth-year veterinary student Orville Tucker examines Baxter
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Dr. Sarah Hamer’s COVID-19 & Pets study has had a profound, global impact on our knowledge of the emergent disease, resulting in unprecedented discoveries and contributing to the scientific community’s understanding of how the virus may affect household pets.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has tracked the number of SARS-CoV-2 cases in animals ranging from cats and dogs to otters and gorillas.

Looking at this map tells a story of how one state has had considerably more positive animal cases than any other— Texas. In fact, of the approximately 363 non-farmed animals reported to have been infected by the virus since the start of the pandemic, almost one-third were from Texas.

That disparity was largely because of the work of a team led by Dr. Sarah Hamer, an associate professor in the

Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVMBS) Departments of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences (VIBS) and Veterinary Pathobiology (VTPB).

Since she launched her COVID-19 & Pets study in June 2020, her team has not only identified the first two cats in Texas that tested positive for the virus, but they also discovered the first animal carrying the British variant, B.1.1.7 or alpha, in the world.

The team never anticipated these types of results when their study first started; initially, their goal was simply to better understand how animals may be involved in the pandemic.

“As the pandemic was ramping up, the mood was gloomy, with research projects being put on pause and week after week of not knowing what to expect,” Hamer said. “At our virtual lab meetings, we started talking about what we could do to learn something new or to contribute to the science behind the pandemic. As a lab that studies diseases in animals that can cross over to people, we explored that a little bit, thinking that if there were any animals that might

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Dr. Italo Zecca and Rachel Busselman swab the fur of a cat as part of the COVID-19 & Pets study in May 2021.
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be involved in transmission cycles with this virus, they would probably be ones that have really close associations with humans—our household pets."

Refining that idea, they decided to sample animals living in high-risk environments, or households in which someone had already tested positive for COVID-19, to see if their pets also were infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Their early and quick success opened many doors for the team, including a partnership that quickly developed with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).

“When the CDC learned of some of our initial positive results, they became really interested,” Hamer said. “They deployed a veterinarian and an epidemiologist to work with us for a week, to see how our team was doing the sampling and to lend a helping hand. That solidified our common interest and sparked a collaboration that continues today.”

A MODEL OF SUCCESS

Hamer has built her career on understanding the ecology and epidemiology of infectious and vector-borne diseases that affect both people and animals.

She played a critical role in understanding the impacts of West Nile Virus (WNV) on wild bird populations at the time when WNV was first detected in the U.S., learning how bird movements can impact public health. Her work with Chagas disease also has received federal funding to examine the impact of the disease on U.S. Department of Homeland Security working dogs along the U.S.-Mexico border, among others.

“We’ve had several projects with dogs and cats for our Chagas disease work, a lot of community outreach and door-to-door type research in South Texas, working closely with the pet owners and sampling animals in household

settings,” Hamer said.

These experiences with emerging infectious diseases and the novel insight Hamer gleaned from that work informed her approach to her COVID-19 & Pets research.

But the biggest key to the success of the project, she says, has been the research team, which includes faculty collaborators, postdoctoral associates, research staff, and graduate students from the CVMBS as well as Texas A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and School of Public Health.

For example, two team members—former CVMBS postdoctoral research associate Dr. Italo Zecca (now a fellow with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and Hamer collaborator) and biomedical sciences doctoral student Ed Davila—initially volunteered with the Brazos County Health Department (BCHD) as part of the COVID-19 contact tracing efforts.

A formal partnership with BCHD soon emerged that allowed Hamer’s team to offer individuals testing positive for COVID-19 the opportunity to also have any pets living in their households tested for the virus. Those who opted in received a visit from Hamer’s team—appropriately protected to ensure their safety—who took fur, nasal, oral, and rectal swabs, as well as blood samples, to test the animals for the virus.

“Italo and Ed had unique perspectives from working closely in human case investigations that really helped to facilitate our project, because we were able to train the health department teams on asking the questions that opened the door for our investigation,” Hamer said.

Hamer also credits Dr. Rebecca Fischer’s (Public Health) work with the health department and the PCR and antibody testing conducted in her and Dr. Gabriel Hamer’s (Ag & Life Sciences) laboratories as contributing factors to the project’s success.

“Collaboration has been so important in this work; there are so many different dimensions—public health, veterinary health, regulatory, diagnostics,” she said. “In particular, Gabe and his team made a lot of progress on setting up protocols and approvals to work with SARS-CoV-2 in a Biosafety Level-3 environment. That is a unique capability; our unique resources here at Texas A&M allow us to actually grow the virus in cell culture in order to see if there are antibodies in the animal blood that neutralize the virus.”

“Collaboration has been so important in this work; there are so many different dimensions—public health, veterinary health, regulatory, diagnostics.”
- DR. SARAH HAMER
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Zecca prepares samples for testing.
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LEARNING IN ACTION

While their study approach set them up for success, the project was a learning experience for everyone involved.

As an active surveillance study of a disease about which very little was known when the project began, Hamer’s team initially set out to simply learn about the risk factors for pets, potential veterinary health issues, and how it relates to public health.

“We’ve learned that while we have evidence of both dogs and cats being infected, it's much more common in cats than in dogs,” Hamer said. “Even multi-pet households where you have owners with a few cats and a few dogs, it's most likely the cats that were infected; that might relate to the relationship of the cats with the owners, the animals’ different physiology, and so forth.

“Another thing is, fortunately, it's the rare case that pets are getting sick with this infection. Of the more than 600 pets we sampled, the project has confirmed infections in just under 100 animals; approximately 25% of the houses we visited had at least one infected pet,” she said. “Less than a quarter of the confirmed infected pets we’ve sampled were reported by their owners to show signs of disease, and in all

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In all cases, the pets recovered on their own, which Hamer to explain their findings and what they were learning as they studies on their findings; has given several presentations
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SERVICE HOSPITAL RESEARCH GIVING STUDENTS Dr. Sarah Hamer, Lisa Auckland, Rachel Busselman, Dr. Italo Zecca, and Ed Davila Auckland helps prepare sample kits.

on the work, including at the American Veterinary Medical Association convention; and has had published interviews with major news outlets in the U.S., India, Spain, and South Korea.

“While we know the work we are doing is important for science and our findings are important for the public, I saw how the media can be a helpful tool to share our work with the general public, not just the scientific community,” Busselman said.

“It’s been a privilege to be involved in a lab that asks how our expertise can be used to help add to the knowledge of a world-altering event,” she said. “I am so thankful to still be in my training with Dr. Hamer during this pandemic and watch how she uses her expertise to help and how she has persisted in the scientific process even during a pandemic.”

VIRAL RESEARCH

As the pandemic began to wane and people started returning to everyday life, Hamer’s team hit the magic 600 mark in meeting their sample size goals for their CDC funding.

While that piece of the project is over, the team has continued compiling and evaluating these data for publication—and have begun new COVID-19-related projects.

“It has been really nice to be a part of this project and to be a part of providing information, to answer questions, to learn about this new virus that affected the whole world. It is our small way of helping and that feels great.”

In an extension of their COVID-19 & Pets research, one project is investigating SARS-CoV-2 transmission by sampling at more regular intervals both pets and people in homes in which the human residents test positive for the virus; owners also have the option to use a device to track their proximity to their pets over a two-week period, which will allow the team to better understand potential transmission between people and pets.

In another study—funded by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists—Hamer’s team is collaborating with the Austin Humane Society (AHS) and Austin Animal Center to sample cats brought to the AHS for spaying or neutering to determine if there are coronaviruses circulating among Travis County animals that could potentially pose a risk to humans.

Branching out beyond household pets, Hamer—working with CVMBS clinical associate professor Dr. Walter Cook

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Garrett Norman holds Oreo while Dr. Sarah Hamer swabs the Norman family pet’s nose.

and doctoral students Chase Nunez and Logan Thomas—is testing captive white-tailed deer in Texas and learned that these animals are also susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 at rates that indicated that the deer may be spreading the virus among themselves.

Finally, as doctoral and master’s students in Hamer’s lab sample wildlife for research involving vector-borne pathogens, these students are also collecting samples that are being frozen for secondary use for SARS-CoV-2 research when they’re able to secure funding.

“In a ‘One Health’ perspective, we know the health of people, animals, and the environment is all intertwined,” Hamer said. “So to most fully understand the ecology of SARS-CoV-2 and other emerging diseases, we need to incorporate humans, animals, and the ecosystem in our research efforts.”

As the team reflects on their experience, there is a feeling of both pride and accomplishment.

“It has been really nice to be a part of this project and to be a part of providing information, to answer questions, to learn about this new virus that affected the whole world. It is our small way of helping and that feels great,” said research associate Lisa Auckland. “We’ve heard lots of great stories from the people we visited—not all were related to

COVID, but it has been great to connect with the community and hear the stories that people want to share with us.”

Hamer said it has been important that the staff and students on her research team feel fulfilled by their work, but she also acknowledges that it’s been an intellectually satisfying project as they worked to drive knowledge forward.

“We know that after SARS-CoV-2 is under control, there will be a ‘next’ emergence of another zoonotic pathogen, so it’s important to train our students not to be experts on any one disease but to have the skillset to apply their epidemiology and biomedical sciences background wherever it is most useful to help improve human and animal health,” she said.

“I am so proud of the whole team and the fact that everybody was able to quickly create new roles and work together,” Hamer said. “As a mentor, I could have never expected that, because there is some risk associated with going to these houses, even though we had appropriate PPE and the best protocols. Nobody had to do this. So just being a mentor on a team where there was so much willingness to step up to the plate in the face of the pandemic has been really satisfying.” ■

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SERVICE HOSPITAL RESEARCH GIVING STUDENTS Samantha Norman places a COVID-19 swab into a test tube for Dr. Sarah Hamer. Dr. Albert Mulenga
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“The beauty is that most tick-borne disease agents are not immediately transmitted when the tick starts to bite; it requires a little bit of time on the animal or human for the disease agent to be transmitted.”

Story by MARGARET PREIGH

Dr. Albert Mulenga, a professor in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVMBS) Department of Veterinary Pathobiology (VTPB), has found the research that makes him tick—ticks and tick-borne diseases.

Because these parasites pose a global threat to human, animal, and environmental health, Mulenga has taken a One Health approach to his research. As a result, his work has the potential to not only assist in the eradication of diseases that threaten human health—such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Tularemia—but also the ticks that pose a major risk to our nations’ food supply and economic stability through transmission of disease pathogens to livestock such as cattle.

Mulenga’s lab primarily focuses on understanding how ticks feed as a means through which anti-tick vaccine targets can be discovered, in hopes of ultimately developing a vaccine that prevents both the feeding and the transmission of disease agents by ticks.

This is possible because when a host is bitten by a tick, the tick injects multiple proteins and other molecules secreted through its saliva into the host. Those proteins numb the pain of puncture, which leaves the host unaware of the tick’s presence, prevents blood from clotting, suppresses host immune defenses, and allows transmitted tick-borne pathogens to colonize or establish in the host.

In collaboration with Dr. John Yates III, a chemist at the Scripps Research Institute, and Dr. Itabajara da Silva Vaz Jr., a professor at Brazil's Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Mulenga’s lab has mapped secretion patterns of the proteins present in the saliva of blacklegged and lone star ticks, which transmit the majority of human tick-borne

disease agents in the U.S.; cattle fever ticks, which are important to livestock production worldwide; and Asian longhorned ticks, a recent invasive species in the U.S.

“If we understand these molecules and how they facilitate tick feeding, we can block the functions of these proteases (an enzyme that breaks down proteins) and protease inhibitors (molecules that block the function of proteases) as targets for a vaccine,” he said. “If we immunize the host, when the tick tries to feed, it will not be able to.

“The beauty is that most tick-borne disease agents are not immediately transmitted when the tick starts to bite; it requires a little bit of time on the animal or human for the disease agent to be transmitted,” he said. “During that period when the tick is preparing to feed, the antibody taught to the body by the vaccine can actually work; if the immune system rejects the tick, it will not be able to transmit, and, as a consequence, we are protecting against infection.”

If ticks are unable to feed on a vaccinated population, they will eventually die off. Mulenga said their disappearance has no negative effect on the ecosystem, as they do not occupy any unique ecological function.

CATCHING THE SCIENCE BUG

Born and raised in Zambia, Mulenga was driven to find explanations for the world around him and solve problems from an early age.

“When I was in about ninth grade, I wanted to be a mathematician,” he said. “Then in 12th grade, I had this very great chemistry teacher who changed my mind. I got excited by biology and chemistry and how we can use these two things to actually explain nature.”

By approaching tick research with a One Health mindset, Dr. Albert Mulenga is making discoveries that will ensure a safer future for animals, people, and the food we eat.
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SERVICE HOSPITAL RESEARCH GIVING STUDENTS

After passing the university entrance exam, he was selected to attend the University of Zambia, where he studied physical sciences before transitioning into their veterinary program, which had been established only two years earlier.

In 1990, Mulenga graduated with his Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine degree and worked as an extension veterinarian. It was here that he first encountered ticks and tick-borne diseases and learned how both have major impacts on animal and human health, as well as on the food supply and economy, on a global scale.

“In Zambia, these are major hazards if you're working in livestock production,” he said. “They're critical. When I was working as an extension veterinarian, most of the cases we dealt with were ticks and tick-borne diseases.”

He returned to the University of Zambia as a staff development fellow, which launched an educational journey that would take him around the world, first to the University of Liverpool, England, where he earned a master’s degree in veterinary science, with a concentration in parasitology, and then to Japan’s Hokkaido University, where he earned his Ph.D. in disease control, with a focus in vaccine development.

At Hokkaido, his experiences converged when he was selected to lead a project on making vaccines against ticks.

“We were very successful. A substantial portion of my dissertation was patented in Japan,” he said. “From that, I got a postdoctoral fellowship from the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science, which supported me for two years.”

In 2001, Mulenga headed stateside to the University of Maryland College of Medicine in Baltimore for another postdoctoral position, and then in 2005, he was recruited to join the entomology faculty at Texas A&M, where he researched tick feeding physiology for nine years.

In 2014, Mulenga relocated to the CVMBS to continue his research.

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION IS A POUND OF CURE

Because ticks can infect a wide range of hosts, Mulenga is working toward a multi-species prevention effort to control their spread.

In one project, working with Dr. Tammi Johnson at the Texas A&M AgriLife Center at Uvalde, Mulenga is working on the immunization of whitetail deer. Because these deer pose a potential risk to human and animal health, the project is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“We are going to test if immunization of whitetail deer actually will prevent ticks from feeding,” he said. “Whitetail deer are the principal blood meal source for Amblyomma americanum and for Ixodes scapularis Ixodes scapularis, or the blacklegged tick, is a principal vector of Lyme disease.”

In another project, with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Mulenga is investigating how Borrelia bacteria, the pathogens responsible for Lyme disease, influence the tick to promote disease agent transmission. His lab has identified a number of proteins that are secreted during feeding by an infected tick and is currently trying to narrow down their list of proteins to determine which are the most important during this process.

Once Mulenga has identified the most vital proteins associated with the feeding of Borrelia -infected ticks, he can begin to develop a vaccine that will train the body to recognize and attack these proteins.

In addition, for a Kleberg Foundation-funded project with colleagues at the University of Queretaro in Mexico, the University of San Antonio, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Mulenga is working to produce recombinant antigens to protect cattle against feeding of cattle fever ticks and transmission of cattle babesia parasites.

In a related project, Mulenga and Dr. Mwangi Waithaka, a professor at Kansas State University, have been funded by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to understand the immunological basis of immunity against tick feeding in repeatedly infected cattle. He hopes to use findings from this project to better formulate anti-tick vaccines.

“In the U.S., cattle fever ticks have been controlled for more than 50 years now, but the threat is still there because these ticks are very prevalent in Mexico. Due to the high trade volume between Mexico and the U.S., there is a risk of these ticks coming back through traded cattle,” he said. “That's why even though cattle fever ticks are currently controlled on a domestic scale, we're trying to see if we can find some targets that we can use to make a vaccine.”

For all of these scholarly endeavors, Mulenga was awarded the Texas A&M Presidential Impact Fellow award in 2018.

PERSISTENCE THROUGH A PANDEMIC

Although Mulenga and his lab have kept busy through the pandemic, the hands-on nature of their work has proven to be a challenge in a world of social distancing and cautionary quarantines, as well as supply shortages.

Despite this unique set of challenges, Mulenga has maintained a forward-looking attitude and has used the past year productively.

“The silver lining, basically, is learning how to use the time better. Now, you come to work or you're at home,” he said. “You know you're just going to work; you're not going to just stand outside and talk to people. Going forward, I can plan my day better: I'm going to go to work, I'm going to do this at

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work, and I'm going to come home to socialize.”

This positive attitude is especially impressive considering the disruptions the pandemic has caused to his career.

In the spring of 2020, just before the pandemic took full effect, he was selected for a prestigious Fulbright scholar award to investigate a novel way to empirically evaluate antigens for new tick vaccines in Brazil. The Fulbright program is the largest and most diverse international exchange program; recipients are carefully selected on the basis of their leadership and contributions to society under the supervision of a 12-member, presidentially-appointed board.

Shortly after receiving notice of his award, Mulenga was told that his trip to Brazil would be pushed back by at least two years.

BITING INTO TEACHING

As we inch closer to a life post-pandemic, Mulenga looks forward to welcoming more young minds into his lab in the coming months.

Although Mulenga now describes teaching and guiding young scientists as one of his favorite aspects of his position, he did not foresee a calling in teaching when he began his career.

“I can remember the morning of Oct. 2, 1984, when I left for the University of Zambia,” he said. “At that time, my grandma said, ‘Go on and become a great teacher.’ I never imagined that I was going to be a teacher; my interest was to go and become a practicing veterinarian. Being a teacher just came to me—I don't know how, but my grandma predicted it.”

In the tightly woven global community of ticks and tickborne disease researchers, Mulenga has not only been able to collaborate with scientists he’s known since graduate school, but he is also excited to work on a project with a former student who, now, as a colleague and faculty member at the University of South Alabama, will investigate an invasive tick species from Asia that has found its way to the U.S.

“I planted the seed when she was an undergrad here and she's now a researcher,” he said. “When a student is very curious and they have a lot of energy, it is very exciting to see that my energy transformed somebody's life.”

Mulenga’s career also has been one of transformation—in the students he teaches, in the therapeutics he develops, and in the One Health approach he encourages for tick management to protect the food chain and human health to make a safer world for us all. ■

Mulenga, William Tae Heung Kim, Dr. Thu Thuy Nguyen, Dr. Alex Kiarie Gaithuma, Dr Hassan Hakimi, and Emily Bencosme Cuevas
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SERVICE HOSPITAL RESEARCH GIVING STUDENTS Dr. Bill and Joyce Roach
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Dr. Bill and Joyce Roach drew from Bill’s love of surgery and his hope for veterinary students to gain more hands-on experience in that discipline in the creation of a program that benefits students, the community, and the profession.

Among the reasons Dr. Bill and Joyce Roach so dearly value education is because of the profound impact education has had on their lives.

“Graduating from veterinary school was a life-changing thing for me and my family,” said Bill, veterinary class of ’57. “Because of the education that I got here at Texas A&M, I was able to go out and practice, do what I wanted to do, and get paid for what I really wanted to do.”

Growing up in Andrews, Texas, in a family that didn’t have much, a professional education was a luxury Bill never thought he would have.

“My daddy was a carpenter and a painter, a really, really hard worker; we had a little place outside of town where we had milk cows, all kinds of chickens, big gardens, and an orchard,” Bill said. “We grew or raised nearly everything we ate.”

When the time came to make a decision about his education, Bill initially considered Texas Tech, which, at only 120 miles away, was considerably closer than College Station, but after visiting Texas A&M as a member of several high school agricultural teams, the choice was an easy one.

“I just thought Texas A&M was the premier university, and if you're going to get an education, you go to a good one,” he said.

At Texas A&M, he was a member of the Corps of Cadets—

an experience he said prepared him for veterinary school— and was originally an animal husbandry major, with plans to become a county extension agent.

“My second year, I was in class with pre-vet students, and I realized that if I became an agriculture agent, advancement would require moving from a county with a smaller population to a county with a bigger population,” Bill said. “Then I realized I wanted to try something that offered greater opportunities; since I was in classes with a bunch of pre-vet students, had good grades, and liked animals, I thought I would change my major to pre-vet and apply to veterinary school.”

As Bill entered the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS), he embarked on a path that would enable him to give back to Texas A&M in ways he never dreamed he would be able to.

BUILDING A HOME AND A PRACTICE

As a veterinary student, Bill returned to West Texas in the summers and at Christmas holidays to work in the oil fields as a roustabout to earn enough money to continue paying for his six-year degree. It was there that he met Joyce, an Andrews transplant by way of California and Oklahoma.

“(We met because) I had a date with another boy, but I stood him up,” Joyce recalled. “When I asked my dad to tell

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“When my family decided to endow this department chair in small animal surgery, I wanted it to do something meaningful for students, as surgery was the most interesting and rewarding part of veterinary practice for me.”
- DR. BILL ROACH ’55, ’57

him I wasn’t there, my dad said, ‘I am not going to lie for you.’ So, I had to get in my car and leave. I met Bill while I was ducking that boy.”

“That was just a lucky day, the day we met each other,” Bill said.

In 1956, between his junior and senior year in veterinary school, Bill and Joyce married, and that summer, Bill worked in a small animal hospital in San Angelo, not only applying the knowledge of medicine and surgery learned in the classroom but learning how to make a living as a business owner.

Following his graduation, Bill and Joyce moved to Killeen, where they raised their three children, owned Killeen Veterinary Clinic for 37 years, and lived “a good life.”

“Killeen was a really good place to grow up,” Bill said. “It was a very patriotic community, being right next to Fort Hood, the largest military base in the free world; probably half of my clients were either military or retired military.”

Among the encounters Bill had as a practitioner was caring for the dog of Gen. George S. Patton’s son, who was a two-star general at the time, and quarantining the dog that bit Elvis Presley when he was stationed at Fort Hood.

“He was trying to sneak through the backyard, so he wouldn't come in contact with all of the teenagers who always drove up and down by his house,” Bill said, with Joyce adding that Presley had lived across the creek from

them. “So, my claim to fame was being the veterinarian who quarantined the dog that bit Elvis Presley.”

But their proximity to Presley wasn’t as glamorous as one might think.

“At the time I didn't even like him, because there were so many cars that went up and down the road,” Joyce said. “Those streets weren't paved then and it was very dusty.”

A COMMITMENT TO COMMUNITY

In 1958, the Roaches opened Killeen Veterinary Clinic with a lot of heart and a little know-how but very little money.

“When I graduated from A&M, we had lived pretty poor for a time; we didn't even have enough money to leave A&M when we moved to Killeen,” Bill said. “We borrowed $200 from the A&M Mothers’ Club, and they let me pay it back at, I think, $10 a month.

“It was pretty difficult, starting out on my own, with finding a place to set-up housekeeping and a decent car to drive; starting my own veterinary practice; and a daughter on the way,” he said.

While Bill had always had an affinity for surgery, he received most of his surgical experience as a veterinary student outside of the classroom, at the practice he worked at in San Angelo; in veterinary school at that time, the professors mostly performed the surgeries while the students watched.

“I had a great veterinary education, but I had to learn about how to make a living as an owner of a veterinary practice. I needed to learn about record keeping, real estate, taxes, and investments,” Bill said. “Education opens up so many opportunities, and I wanted the knowledge to participate in those opportunities.

“I never stopped being inspired by education and the lifechanging opportunities it brings,” he said.

This is the resounding sentiment behind the Roaches’ decision to fund the Dr. William A. Roach ’55 Family Department Head Chair in Small Animal Clinical Sciences.

In early conversations the Roaches had with the CVMBS Development team, including Dr. Bubba Woytek, and CVMBS Small Animal Clinical Sciences Department (VSCS) head Dr. Jon Levine on how the funds would be used, Levine presented the idea to establish the Roach Family Student Community Outreach Surgical Program.

“When my family decided to endow this department chair in small animal surgery, I wanted it to do something meaningful for students, as surgery was the most interesting and rewarding part of veterinary practice for me,” Bill said. “I learned most of my surgical skills after graduation; I wanted today’s students to have more opportunities while in college to perform a greater number and variety of surgeries to build their skills and confidence

Joyce and Dr. Bill Roach
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while being taught by some really outstanding veterinary surgeons.

“Dr. Levine and his imaginative team expounded on my ideas and developed a program administered by students, with surgeries performed by students and monitored by surgeons on pets that risk being euthanized because of a lack of funds to pay for their surgery,” he said.

Because surgical procedures are being offered for Brazos Valley pets belonging to owners with limited financial means, who otherwise would not be able to receive the much-needed surgical care, the Roaches see the program as win-win.

In addition, students get experience in some of the business aspects of veterinary medicine, something Bill had to learn through mentorship and on his own.

And, as importantly, those living in the Bryan-College Station area, an area the Roaches love so much, get the benefit of more time with their animal companions.

“Not only do we get to help the community, which is something Joyce and I have done all of our lives, but we get to help the community we are a part of,” Bill said.

The Roaches said they will forever be grateful to the A&M

A GIRL'S BEST FRIEND

Mothers’ Club, which stepped in when they needed help the most, and in the spirit of Aggies helping Aggies, they are delighted that their generosity will impact two of the things Bill loves most—education and veterinary medicine.

“Everyone wins with these well-thought-out ideas,” Bill said. “Joyce and I are very pleased to be able to give back to Texas A&M and the College of Veterinary Medicine in return for all they have done for me and my family of Aggies.” ■

Nine-year-old Natalie Hinojosa and her dog Sadie, a 3-year-old Chihuahua/ Dachshund mix, have been best friends since Natalie first saw the tiny runt of the litter and insisted on taking her home.

Growing up together, the pair spent every day playing, running, and otherwise causing mischief in Natalie’s grandparents’ home in Bastrop. But one small mistake led to serious trouble when Sadie ran through an open door and was hit by a truck passing in front of their house.

At the Texas A&M Small Animal Teaching Hospital, Natalie remained calm and strong, despite being told that her best friend would most likely lose a leg. Her grandparents, however, were worried about how they would afford Sadie’s surgery.

After they voiced their concern, Sadie became the first patient to receive surgery under the Roach Family Student Community Outreach Surgical Program, meaning her amputation was provided free of cost and performed by then-fourth-year veterinary student Athena Eberle, with supervision by Dr. James Bilof.

Sadie recovered well and bounced back quickly, despite the loss of her left hind leg. For Natalie, the experience reinforced her desire to one day become a veterinarian and spend her life helping animals.

“Natalie and Sadie just amaze me with how in-tune they are with each other,” said Nickie Hinojosa, Natalie’s grandmother. “I don't think I've ever seen a child and a dog with a bond like theirs. I don't know how Natalie would function without her, so we just really want to thank and appreciate everybody here.”

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SERVICE HOSPITAL RESEARCH GIVING STUDENTS Natalie and her dog Sadie Dr. Roach in his office
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Bickie Coffey, Baby, and JoJo

“We’ve come in and the students have remembered us. They must see all kinds of clients, but they don’t just treat you and move on; they remember you and your animals, and they’re just so kind. I love that place—they just care.”

Bickie and Bill Coffey’s experiences with Texas A&M’s Small Animal Teaching Hospital have instilled a desire to help ensure its continued top-notch patient care for generations to come.

Bickie and Bill Coffey don’t just want the best for their own pets; they want the best for everyone’s pets.

That love of animals and the human-animal bond are why some clients at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVMBS) Small Animal Teaching Hospital (SATH) have found their bills mysteriously paid.

It’s why the Coffeys will do whatever it takes for their pets to get care at Texas A&M, whether that’s flying them from Wyoming to Texas for emergency care or braving the worst ice storm in a generation.

And it’s why the Coffeys have not only been strong vocal supporters of a new small animal teaching hospital at Texas A&M but strong philanthropic supporters as well.

“After all Texas A&M’s Small Animal Teaching Hospital has done for our family, this is the least we can do,” Bickie said. “I’m ready to see this thing get built.”

A CONVOY IN THE COLD

The Coffeys’ passion for their pets and the trust they have in the SATH clinicians and support staff are demonstrated in an experience Bickie had during the statewide freeze in February of 2020.

During the freeze, the Coffeys’ small Yorkshire Terrier, JoJo, was having vomiting episodes and needed to be seen by a veterinarian. When Bickie called the College Station Police Department’s non-emergency number to check on the road

conditions, the officer told her that they were encouraging everyone to stay off of the roads.

“She was the nicest officer; she had such sympathy for my fur baby,” Bickie said. “She asked me how I would get to A&M, and when I told her down Wellborn, she said they had officers all along Wellborn who would keep an eye on me.”

The SATH ended up needing to keep JoJo overnight, and as Bickie was walking back to her car, one of the electrical workers coming into town asked her where she was headed. Since they were going the same direction, they allowed her to join the convoy of electrical workers on their way through town.

For the Coffeys, this experience was an especially powerful reminder that while much of the city was stuck at home, there was a place they could rely on to help their pets in a critical time of need. At all hours of the day or night, in the midst of a global pandemic and a historic ice storm, there were people who would stop at nothing to provide that care.

“I felt silly going out in the bad weather, to be honest, but JoJo needed that care,” she said. “It meant the world to me that Texas A&M was open and that the doctors and technicians were ready to help.”

That wasn’t the Coffeys’ first dramatic trip to the SATH.

A few years ago, their daughter Leigh called from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, saying that her veterinarian had recommended taking her cat to an animal hospital in

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SERVICE HOSPITAL RESEARCH GIVING STUDENTS

Colorado. Instead of going to Colorado, though, she got on a flight to College Station and brought Gracie all the way to the SATH, where she received chemotherapy and surgery to remove a cancerous kidney.

“It was like she was a new cat,” Bickie said. “We were thinking she had 12 or 14 more months to live, but it’s been three years and this cat is still doing wonderfully. We take her in every three months and she’s still at the level she was when they removed the kidney.”

A LOVE FOR OTHERS

The Coffeys have been bringing their animals to the SATH for more than a decade now, and in that time, they’ve seen their share of other clients going through the emotions of bringing in an injured or sick pet for help.

“I was there one time when these two girls whose dog had been hit by a car were sitting there calculating in their head how they were going to pay for treatment and what they were going to do,” Bickie said.

So, not for the first time, Bickie quietly told the billing department that she would cover whatever the two couldn’t pay that day.

“We’ve seen what they can do, and they’re incredible. But it’s how much they care that’s the difference.”

“If you can, how could you not do that?” she said.

It’s that same love that has led them to become so passionate about building a new teaching hospital.

Having been inside the SATH, they’ve seen the need for more space as demand for services has increased over the years, and they know that with new facilities, the already high quality of care all animals receive will only improve.

“We’ve seen what they can do, and they’re incredible,” Bickie said. “But it’s how much they care that’s the difference.

“We’ve come in and the students have remembered us. They must see all kinds of clients, but they don’t just treat you and move on; they remember you and your animals, and they’re just so kind,” she said. “I love that place—they just care.”

Bickie Coffey, Baby, and JoJo
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By establishing a scholarship for biomedical sciences students, Jim and Cheryl Flint ’94 are giving back to the university that helped them discover a love for tailgating and the friends that come with it.

Ever since they walked into Kyle Field for their first Aggie football game together, Jim and Cheryl Flint ’94 saw Texas A&M University as a second home.

To give back to the university, the couple recently created the Jim and Cheryl Flint '94 Endowed Scholarship to support biomedical sciences (BIMS) students at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS).

“The spirit of service here is very attractive; it’s all about paying it forward,” Cheryl said. “Every time we meet a student, they're always really hard-working and humble, and we know they're going to do great things. When they receive, we know they're going to pay it forward and that our gift just helps to accelerate the community's growth.”

HIGH SCHOOL SWEETHEARTS

By the time he turned 14 years old, Jim had already lived in seven different cities. As a military family, he and his parents ultimately landed in San Antonio, also known as Military City USA, where he developed a friendship with his classmate Cheryl that eventually turned into young love.

“It took a year or more for her to go out on the first date with me,” he said. “I don’t think we ever planned for things to happen the way they happened, but we’re both thankful.”

When it came time to go to college, Cheryl headed to College Station while Jim enrolled at Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth to play baseball.

“I didn’t realize how much I was going to miss her,” Jim said. “There was no Zoom or FaceTime back then, so we ran up quite the phone bill. Ultimately we figured out, even without cars of our own, how to get back and forth between the two towns and spend a lot of time together.”

During that period, they also developed a mutual love for Aggie football and the spirit of the 12th Man.

“I remember the first Aggie game we went to when we were in college,” Jim said. “It was a night game against

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Jim and Cheryl Flint ’94

Louisville and they were doing the transition to a new Reveille, so the puppy was there. Even back then, I knew we were going to keep coming back. The comradery and generosity and connectedness that this place makes you feel is unbelievable.”

A few years later, tailgating before Aggie football games became a tradition like no other for the couple, their families, and their close friends. In their recently published book, “Beyond the Tailgate,” the Flints explore the impact that sports and Texas A&M have had on their relationships.

“Having someone by your side for twelve hours of a tailgating experience requires a unique personality with an ability to persevere,” Jim wrote in “Beyond the Tailgate.” “It’s not for every person or for every couple. I feel lucky to have shared a decade’s worth of experiences with Cheryl.”

The book now welcomes visitors staying at the Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center, where, only yards away from Kyle Field, a copy of “Beyond the Tailgate” resides in every room. Each chapter uniquely expresses the perspectives of both husband and wife as they participate in the explosive growth of Aggie football and tailgating.

They see tailgating as not only a way to celebrate game day, but an opportunity to spend time together and bond with family and friends over shared passions.

“Sports are a love language in our family,” Cheryl said. “It's about spending time together.

“When we invite people to come with us to games, they’re blown away,” she continued. “At first they're a little overwhelmed with our campus and stadium. However, then they see that even with the size, it can be quite personable. It’s what I love about Aggieland.”

WORKING IN DIFFERENT WORLDS

While Cheryl pursued a major in education at Texas A&M, her biomedical sciences courses proved especially impactful.

“Science is such a backbone—it's all around you and it's so relevant and important,” she said. “You live science every day.”

“She's done a remarkable job with a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) mindset in her classes and her curriculum,” Jim added. “She's a great representative for females and really anyone interested in science—she’s living it, she’s embracing it, and she cares about the students and teachers.”

As Cheryl began her teaching career, Jim returned to TCU for a master’s degree in business administration. After several years of working in a corporate environment, he turned to his entrepreneurial side and launched his own digital marketing agency, Local Search Group, which serves automotive retailers as well as the cryptocurrency industry.

He recently worked in conjunction with local students and the Texas Blockchain Council to introduce the first blockchain meetup in College Station. He credits his experiences as an athlete for taking on challenges others might consider risky.

“I wasn’t afraid of losing thanks to my experiences in sports. We won a few and lost a few, but my fear of failure remains low because losing didn’t necessarily equate to failure for me,” Jim said. “I’ve just been willing and able to get back up one more time than I’ve been knocked down.”

When the couple began to reflect upon their shared history, they knew that Texas A&M’s willingness to make moves from the Southwest Conference to the Big XII and, ultimately, to the Southeastern Conference seemed familiar. They had moved three times early in Jim’s career and now they wanted to give back to a place where it had all started.

“A&M offered a lot of opportunities that elsewhere, I don't think would've happened,” Cheryl said. “The campus is so vast and you could go anywhere and do anything. More than anything else, it gave us opportunity.”

“We get really excited about athletics, but I'm also enthusiastic about the direction of the university and, in particular, the veterinary school,” Jim added. “Things keep evolving and I can see an even brighter future ahead.”

Not unlike the university, the Flints have found a place they can now call home. ■

Beyond the Tailgate by Jim and Cheryl Flint ’94
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When the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences celebrated the retirement of Dr. O. J. “Bubba” Woytek on May 6, colleagues and friends came together to extol his love for the college, the university, and the people who support both.

“It’s been an honor and privilege to do this. It was really a lot of fun and very rewarding,” said Dr. O. J. “Bubba” Woytek, assistant vice president for development within the Texas A&M Foundation. “Every day was Christmas because every day I was looking for a gift for the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS).”

After serving as a development officer for the CVMBS for more than 32 years, Woytek has a lot to be proud of.

Not only was he the first veterinarian to serve as a development officer at a college of veterinary medicine in the United States, but in his time at the CVMBS, he estimates that between $400 million and $500 million was raised for veterinary scholarships, research, education, buildings, and more.

In the first capital campaign in which he participated, Woytek single-handedly reached and surpassed the college’s $29 million goal, raising $30 million, and in the second, helped raise more than $100 million. In the last campaign, he and the CVMBS development team raised $300 million for the college, second only to the College of Engineering.

“I was just helping the college be the best that it can be,” he said.

But for Woytek, his time at the CVMBS has been about more than just raising money—it’s been about the relationships he’s developed, the stewardship piece of his job, that he has loved so dearly.

“That's what it is,” he said. “When people know you care and that what they're doing is important, they feel good about their gift, and that is important.

“If I could say anything, I'd just like to thank the faculty and the students for their help and especially the alumni; they know who they are,” he said. “For many of the gifts that I got here, the donors never even came to school here. They gave because of the respect for our profession

and our graduates. Because of the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, they'd give a million dollars; they create scholarships because of what they represent, the professionalism and the caring. I think that's important.

“I want to thank the Texas A&M Foundation for allowing me to represent my college, my university, and my profession. It’s been a wonderful time.”

In his retirement, Woytek plans to devote time to his cows and the two boats he rarely used.

“I bought a pontoon boat in 1995, a 20-footer. You can walk around and you cook on it, visit, and I've had it out, I think five or six times in all those years,” he said. “But I will. I'm going to go fishing at Somerville.”

But, of course, in true Woytek fashion, retirement doesn’t actually mean retirement.

Because of the relationships he’s developed, he plans to stick around part-time through the end of 2022, he says, to support the next Small Animal Teaching Hospital fundraising campaign.

After all, in 32 years, he’s developed a lot of relationships, and if any of his friends call the Development Office looking for him, he wants them to know he’s still there for them. ■

Woytek shares what his time at the CVMBS has meant to him during his May 6 retirement reception. Colleagues from the Texas A&M Foundation came together to celebrate Woytek’s retirement.
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Veterinary student Susan Antonini at Dimmitt Veterinary Clinic, one of VERO's rural partner clinics. (Photo by Michael Kellett, CVMBS Communications)
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