How Iowa State's College of
The life of Denise Brucher’s beloved 3-year-old German shepherd, Sam, hung in the balance.
For weeks, Sam had been flinching if anyone touched her neck. Her local vet guessed the active dog had a pinched nerve and prescribed medication. But one morning last fall, the high-energy Sam didn’t want to get out of bed. Shortly after, she started drooling and shaking.
Brucher tried to get into her usual vet near her home, located about 20 minutes from Cedar Rapids, but she couldn’t reach the vet that early in the day. So Brucher scooped up her dog and rushed her to a local emergency vet, who found that the dog’s pupils were dilating unevenly – a sure sign of a neurological disorder.
The vet informed Brucher that Sam needed an MRI to diagnose what was quickly becoming a life-threatening condition. The only MRI machine for animals in Iowa was at ISU’s Dr. W. Eugene and Linda Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center, 90 minutes away. The second closest was in Madison, Wis. – six hours away.
Brucher rushed the dog to Ames, where the staff was waiting for her, alerted by the emergency vet when Brucher left.
“They were so wonderful,” says Brucher. “I almost start crying just talking about it. Sam is like one of our children.”
Brucher found that she had not only a veterinary neurological specialist on Sam’s case, but a whole team of neurologists. The MRI showed what was suspected to be a blood clot in Sam’s brain, and immediate surgery was needed.
Surgery revealed that it was actually an abscess in the dog’s brain, a rare condition, and the abscess was removed.
If Brucher had tried to get to Madison, the dog likely would have died because
“We’re like a Mayo Clinic [for animals], says ISU College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Lisa Nolan. “We provide that high level of expertise and facilities that you cannot find just anywhere” in the region.
ISU’s veterinary medicine complex is made up of a wide array of entities. It encompasses five academic departments of the university. It also includes the Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center, which includes the small and large animal hospitals. The Veterinary Medical Center also includes mobile veterinary services for farm animals and horses and the state’s only accredited Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, as well as numerous centers and institutes.
ISU is able to provide for the animals it treats with entire teams of specialists in an astounding array of specialties: cardiology, anesthesiology, dermatology, internal medicine, oncology, neurology, radiology, canine rehabilitation, pathology, dentistry, reproduction, toxicology, and neurotoxicology. In all, the college has 72 board-certified specialists.
There are even veterinary eye specialists, but don’t expect any eye charts on the wall for animals to try to decipher. Instead, the veterinary ophthalmologist is likely to do physical analysis of the eye, including looking inside the eye with special equipment, gauging eye pressure, checking eye mobility by following objects, and dilating pupils.
The MRI, as Brucher’s case illustrates, is impressive. (Even some human hospitals don’t have these useful but prohibitively expensive machines, which can take images of the inside of a body.) And now, with the recent expansion at the ISU veterinary medical center, the center has also added a CT machine with increased quality and capability.
From circovirus infection in hogs to HIV in humans, from Parkinson’s disease to strokes and E. coli outbreaks, ISU veterinary researchers work not just to keep animals healthy, but also work to prevent diseases that can affect the food chain or can be passed to humans. (Studies indicate that as many as 75 percent of newly identified emerging human diseases originate in animals.)
Also playing a global role in animal health is the ISU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. It analyzes and identifies diseases from hundreds of thousands of samples all over the world. It is one of the original 12 laboratories in the U.S. chosen to monitor animal disease to help identify and track diseases and outbreaks globally.
Just hanging out in the waiting room of the brand new, well-appointed reception room at the center shows that there’s a lot of fascinating stuff going on.
You might encounter several cats and dogs from around the Midwest, brought in for life-saving chemotherapy. Or you might see German shepherds from the Des Moines or other police canine units, each accompanied by a uniformed officer.
Not that you should expect to see only cats and dogs in the small animal waiting room these days. With the addition of new exotic animal specialists, more than ever, you’ll see everything from iguanas to ferrets to pot-bellied pigs at the hospitals.
Of course, in the large animal hospital you’ll find plenty of the swine, cattle, horses, and other livestock that are the foundation of Iowa’s land-grant mission. In fact, the renovations have enhanced ISU’s work in that area.
After the recent rebuilding of the large animal hospital, the college was able to reinstate its Veterinary Field Services, mobile veterinary trucks staffed with clinicians that travel to the animals. That reinstatement was so successful it resulted in more animals coming to the large animal hospital, which had to be further expanded.
The work of the ISU program is further supported with the proximity of the famous U.S. Department of Agriculture National Animal Disease Center. Although the center is not formally connected with ISU, “it’s a rare day that we do not interact with the NADC,” says Dr. Pat Halbur, executive director of ISU’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and chair of the Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine Department.
In fact, the ISU College of Veterinary Medicine forms a cornerstone of one of the world’s largest concentrations of animal health professionals. Besides the NADC, Ames also houses the National Veterinary Services Laboratories and the Center for Veterinary Biologics, also USDA facilities.
Last year the One Health Commission announced it was moving to the ISU Research Park. The commission works to promote improved health of people, animals, plants, and the environment. The result of this convergence of facilities is that Ames has become to animal health what Atlanta and the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are to human health.
Although the AVMA commended the college for its strengths in curriculum as well as key areas of public health, food safety, infectious disease, neurosciences, surgery, veterinary diagnostics, and production animal medicine, the report cited a need for more suitable isolation units, improved safety in surgical anesthesia, neonatal units for horses and cattle, improved safety in loading and unloading facilities for horses, and improved environmental conditions in the food animal and equine hospital.
The partial accreditation was a wake-up call for both the university and the state, as well as for federal funding sources.
All responded to the problem with significant upticks in funding for the college. The Iowa Legislature approved bonding authority to help fund an ambitious, two-phase renovation of the veterinary medical center and the completion of a biosecurity unit.
By the middle of this year, “the state of Iowa, our donors, and ISU will have invested more than $120 million since 2006 in our expansion and renovation,” says Nolan. About $14 million has been secured in private donations. As a result, the college’s rank in research funding has increased from 22nd to 9th over the past five years.
The result of this infusion of funds is readily apparent to visitors. After many months of construction, work on the facilities was completed in May, and a dedication ceremony is scheduled for Sept. 13.
A tour of the new facility is downright dazzling, starting with the bright, cheerful, well-appointed reception room, which includes a play area for children. The famous Christian Peterson Gentle Doctor sculpture graces the entry.