For one animal at the hospital, treatment is a multi-step process
By Cortney Moriarty
Kansas State University's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital provides many specialty services for sick and hurt animals. But usually pets don't just see one specialist or receive one treatment when they come to the hospital -- caring for animals at K-State is a multi-step process that requires the coordination and cooperation between a variety of departments and doctors, with the help of students, residents and interns.
The three-week journey of Tasha, a 12-year-old Boston terrier diagnosed with and treated for cancer, is just one of the stories of this care at K-State's teaching hospital.
When Tasha's owners, Louis and Idonna Hanson, brought her from Fairbury, Neb., to Manhattan, they were not sure what was wrong with her or how it could be treated. Tasha had been experiencing seizures and behavioral changes and the Hansons had heard of K-State's veterinary hospital through their local veterinarian. Tasha was taken to the emergency service of the veterinary hospital Sunday, Feb. 2.
The Hansons said they felt the treatment Tasha received was worth the drive from another state.
"We came this far because we care a lot about her and we felt it was the best place for her to get treatment," Idonna Hanson said.
Dr. Shamus Henry, a veterinary intern in the small animal hospital, examined Tasha when she was admitted to the emergency room. Tasha was monitored in the intensive care unit overnight and initially received two medications: Phenobarbital, an anti-seizure drug, and Prednisone to reduce inflammation in the brain.
On Monday, Feb. 3, Tasha was transferred to the care of Dr. Deborah Hall-Fonte, a resident undergoing specialty training in the area of small animal internal medicine. A full evaluation was performed, including chest X-rays and blood work, to make sure Tasha did not have a systemic illness causing her seizures and to assess how safe it would be for her to undergo anesthesia for an MRI.
Based on the normal results of her blood work and X-rays, Hall-Fonte suspected the problem was a brain tumor and she ordered an MRI. Dr. Hall-Fonte said she thought the problem may be cancer because Tasha did not have a prior history of seizures.
"My goal was to keep her stable while we figured out what was wrong with her," Hall-Fonte said.
Dr. Jim Hoskinson, a board certified veterinary radiologist, performed Tasha's MRI. The scan confirmed Hall-Fonte's suspicions when it showed Tasha had a lesion in her brain that was diagnosed as a brain tumor. Once the problem was identified, Tasha was transferred to the care of Dr. Ruthanne Chun, a board certified veterinary oncologist at the hospital. The best treatment for most brain tumors in dogs is radiation therapy, and Tasha's owners decided to proceed with this treatment.
Lucy Straily, a certified medical dosimetrist at the Central Kansas Cancer Institute in Manhattan, helped plan Tasha's radiation therapy. Straily acts as a consultant for the teaching hospital to provide this service. Using a digitized version of the MRI, Straily created a three-dimensional picture of the tumor and prepared a treatment plan.
Tasha's treatment consisted of 15 doses of radiation. She received radiation treatments daily, Monday through Friday, for three weeks.
"We had two main goals with treatment: to control the tumor and to maintain a good quality of life," Chun said. "Radiation therapy is not a cure for most brain tumors in dogs, but it helps prolong the life of the animal."
Tasha's experience was similar to the type of treatment a human with cancer would receive.
"We use the same types of treatments for pets with cancer as humans: radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, immunotherapy and sometimes gene therapy," Chun said. The only difference is the size of the dose and the amount of time involved.
"People get smaller doses of radiation over a longer period of time because they are not usually hospitalized for the duration of their therapy and because smaller doses are better tolerated," Chun said. "Pets get larger doses over a shorter period of time because many owners opt to have their pets stay at the hospital throughout the entire course of their treatment instead of driving back and forth to Manhattan."
Chun also said that in her experience, pets tolerate radiation therapy very well. The psychological impact of having cancer that many humans experience does not occur with pets, and side effects of the treatment are generally not as severe in dogs and cats as they can be in people.
On Friday, Feb. 21, Tasha received her last dose of radiation therapy, and her owners drove to Manhattan to take her home. Chun said Tasha is doing well and that her therapy was successful.
The Hansons have owned Tasha since she was a puppy. Although they have several cats, Tasha is their only dog. After 12 years, Idonna Hanson considers Tasha a member of the family.
"We're retired, so she's been with us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. She's almost like one of our children," she said.
Idonna Hanson said she and her husband would return to the K-State veterinary hospital if one of their animals needed this type of treatment in the future.
"We really appreciate it. Everyone has been so nice and so caring," she said.