Sat, Nov 10, 2012 - Page 9 News List

How surgery for pets can benefit humans

Many devoted pet owners are happy to spend thousands on brain surgery for their cats and dogs — and these operations may help save human lives, too

By Jon Henley  /  The Guardian, LONDON

Like every owner I meet, Collette Parker, whose cat Henry has been hit by cars twice in 10 months, is beyond grateful to the hospital and its staff.

“They’re just brilliant,” she says. “They call every day, even late in the evening, to keep you posted. They really, really care. Henry’s had his leg pinned, he’s had a bone graft, he’s got an external leg frame. I think they must send the staff on a special cat-whispering course. They’re just amazing.”

They come from around the world to work here. Clinical veterinary medicine in Britain is recognized as pretty much the best there is (there are almost as many specialists working here as in the whole of the rest of Europe), but this hospital in particular is seen as “exceptional,” says neurologist Birgit Parzefall, who has finally made it — after three attempts — to the QMHA from her native Germany.

Stefano Cortellini from Rome, working in emergency and critical care, says it’s “right at the top of everyone’s list.”

They come here because “they want to make things better,” Niessen says. “Make untreatable illnesses treatable, and treatable illnesses curable.”

Most could probably earn more elsewhere: The QMHA is self-financing and not for profit.

“I earn half what I could make in some places,” Volk says frankly, watching two nurses take Alfie, a dachshund recovering from major spinal surgery to correct a disc problem, for a walk down the corridor in a supporting sling. “But people come, and stay, because it’s cutting-edge. We’re advancing veterinary science.”

There is little doubt of that as far as Harry is concerned. A week after the operation, I speak to his owners. The couple are insured and did not think long about having the operation.

“It’s about quality of life,” Tracy says. “He wouldn’t have had much without it. And if it can benefit other cats, and even maybe humans, then so much the better.”

Did it work?

“He’s fine,” Tracy says. “He’s eating more moderately and his character’s starting to come back. If you put your head down, on his level, he’ll give you this affectionate little head-butt, like he used to.”

More importantly, Richard says, the diabetes appears to have gone.

“Harry’s blood-sugar level seems to be at the right level and he hasn’t needed any insulin since the operation. None. It’s been a complete success,” he says.

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