|CSU Home CSU Directory CVMBS Home Site Index Students Web CT|
Insight/Report on Private Giving
Cardiac Team at Colorado State Offers Life-Saving Surgery
Last fall, the Animal Heart Center at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital made headlines when Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong’s puppy was treated for a defective heart valve. The yellow Labrador, Rex, became the latest success story for a program that has quietly grown during the last 10 years to become the only veterinary cardiac surgery program in North America to offer a comprehensive set of surgical options to dogs suffering from heart disease, the second leading cause of death in companion dogs.
But many of the strides the center has made in cardiac surgery simply wouldn’t be possible without the support of private donors, most of whom have had dogs treated by Dr. Chris Orton, Head of Animal Heart Center and its Open Heart Surgery Program, and his surgical and support team.
“Our clients are an incredibly dedicated group of people, who not only want to see their own dogs live healthy lives, but who want to do what they can to advance cardiac care for all dogs,” said Dr. Orton. “Heart disease in dogs, like in humans, is a major health concern. We can care for many conditions with medication or less invasive surgery, but some problems can only be treated with open-heart surgery. Our goal is to continue to grow a strong cardiac surgery program so that we can provide excellent cardiac care to our patients, while training other veterinarians in this specialty so that owners around the country and the world have this option for their dogs.”
Currently, the Open Heart Surgery Program only is able to perform one to two surgeries a month, and the waiting list is long. The team is limited on the surgeries they can perform because open-heart surgery is time- and labor-intensive and requires a team of specialists, high-tech support, and lengthy stays in the critical care unit for recovery. Dr. Orton and his team simply don’t have the bandwidth to offer additional surgical slots, which is something he would like to change. Eventually, Dr. Orton notes, he would like to increase the open-heart surgical procedures his team can do to one a week.
Donors like Lois Arnold of Arizona and Deborah Van Dyke King of Montana are doing amazing things to help. Arnold’s dog Carmel was successfully treated by the Open Heart Surgery team. Arnold wrote a book about the experience “What Do You Mean, She’s Just a Dog?” and in April 2005 launched the Heart to Heart Hustle, a major walk/run benefit to raise funds for the research and treatment of animal heart disease. This year, the Heart to Heart Hustle is slated for Feb. 19 and will once again raise funds to support the Animal Heart Center.
Deborah Van Dyke King is a major donor and supporter of the Animal Heart Center because of her experience with her dog Custer. At 10 months, Custer was diagnosed with tryplastic dysplasia, a fetal heart defect. Surgeons with the Open Heart Surgery Program were able to repair the valve, and Custer lived four more years.
“Our local veterinarian put us in touch with Dr. Orton at CSU, and he clearly explained all the options available to us including medical intervention, surgery, or just watching and waiting,” said King. “We wanted to give Custer the best chance possible at a quality life, so we decided to go for surgery to repair his damaged valve. We also felt that Custer could provide a good learning experience for Dr. Orton, Dr. (Leigh) Griffiths, and students at the hospital.”
The Open Heart Surgery team also traveled abroad last year with support from an owner in England whose dog, Monty, needed surgery but was unable to travel to the United States because of quarantine requirements. The 6-year-old Rhodesian ridgeback was in advanced heart failure with a leaky tricuspid valve cause by a congenital malformation. Dr. Dan Brockman was interested in starting a cardiac surgery program at the Royal Veterinary College in London and thought that, with the help of the CSU team, Monty would be a good first patient. Monty’s owner covered all the team’s costs, and Dr. Brockman provided the heart/lung machine.
“Our goal was twofold,” said Dr. Orton. “First was to save this dog’s life. The second goal, and the one with greater long-term impact, was to help the Royal Veterinary College – probably one of the top veterinary schools in the United Kingdom – establish a cardiac surgery program. Each of our team members had a corresponding team member learning from them, so the surgery was able to save a life and teach cardiac surgical techniques.”
As the Animal Heart Center looks to expand its research, teaching and outreach missions in the coming years, private funding will remain critical to its success. Private support in partnership with the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences will be necessary to fund additional faculty and research positions, to enable the purchase of new equipment, and remodel and expand animal treatment and critical care facilities. Dr. Orton is sure that with the continued success of the program, clients and their dogs will be the beneficiaries of the exciting times ahead.