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Small Animal ICU Reunion: "We're in the Business of Not Giving Up" 

April 20, 2004

Broken neck. Heart failure. Even a near-fatal reaction to a commonly prescribed drug. These life-threatening situations often lead to the loss of a pet. In the Small Animal Emergency and Intensive Care Service of the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, however, things might just turn out differently. Animals suffering from these conditions and many other critical health problems have not only survived, but now thrive thanks to the skill and determination of veterinary faculty and staff.

Saturday, April 17, 2004, members of the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital met with former clients and patients of the Intensive Care Unit to share experiences, recall successes, and note discoveries that animal patients can inspire.

Organized by staff members, the informal event featured food and fellowship. Animals even enjoyed pet-friendly "cake" and "ice cream" especially formulated with pet-food ingredients.

Veterinary faculty recognized the specialty residents and veterinary technicians responsible for ongoing care of the animals in the critical care unit, also known as the ICU. Patients in the ICU may come directly from the Emergency Service or through other units of the teaching hospital.

Veterinary technician and event organizer Melody Duncan stated the reunion's purpose simply: "This event is an opportunity to meet again in happier times."

Faculty, residents and staff members participated from both the emergency and intensive care units that make up the service. At least 125 guests attended the event.

Faculty member Steve Haskins, who supervises ICU veterinarians, commented, "It's nice to see the animals again when they're spunky, when they've gained some weight." Haskins is one of the founders of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care; he has helped establish protocols and standards for the emergency and critical care of small animals.

Haskins also observed that specialized training and experience qualify veterinary technicians to play an important role in critical care, when an animal's condition can change rapidly."They know when something is wrong—when to call the vet," he stated.

"Such a pleasure," said Linda Savely, staff supervisor and one of the day's organizers. As a testament to the bonds developed with clients, several visitors whose animals did not survive also joined the group, sharing memories and photographs. "It was a special event," said Savely. "People were happy and pleased to participate." Refreshments and pet gift baskets were made possible by donations from more than two dozen sponsors, she said.

Veterinarian Karl Jandrey acted as master of ceremonies, handing out gifts to canine and feline guests and speaking of the rewards and challenges of working in the Emergency and Intensive Care Service. He cited several cases and informed the audience about the ICU's services. He said that the unit offers round-the-clock services. According to Jandrey, about five animals per day are seen in the emergency and critical care service, adding up to from 1200 to 1500 patients a year. About 2/3 of those animals are dogs and 1/3 are cats. The average stay is two days, although several animal guests had remained much longer.

One client presented a plaque to the staff that paraphrases the ICU's unofficial motto, "We are in the business of not giving up." He gave the plaque on behalf of Bea, a dog that spent 36 days on a ventilator in the ICU during her recovery from a broken neck.

Also present were a Yorkshire terrier admitted nine months ago with heart failure and a cat that had undergone a successful kidney transplant.

Jandrey also told of a cat that had reacted severely to a drug routinely prescribed to treat parasites. Veterinarians from the school are now investigating the likelihood that the cat, a calico named Autumn that has been restored to health, may be the first feline to be recognized as genetically sensitive to the drug.

Jandrey noted that Autumn's situation offers a clear example that every case at the teaching hospital poses an opportunity to learn more about veterinary medicine. He stated, "What we learn makes us realize that we're doing the right thing."

The Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital serves as a referral resource for veterinarians with the most complicated cases. The hospital treats 30,000 animal patients each year while teaching students the essential clinical skills of veterinary practice. Residents also receive advanced training in 28 veterinary specialties, including emergency and critical care medicine.