Texas A&M University's Large Animal Clinical Sciences:
Making the Grade
An Interview with D. Kirk Eddleman, Assistant Hospital Administrator,
Texas A&M University's Large Animal Clinical Sciences

Written by Sherri L. Barclay of Barclay's Arabians

More than 40 veterinarians, 8-10 resident interns and 130 veterinary specialists on staff. State-of-the-art equipment including a Telemetry Unit, ventilator units and an Anderson sling just to name a few. An intensive care unit for both large animals and foals which resembles a human hospital more than an animal hospital equipped with sophisticated life-saving equipment available and staffed 24/7 throughout the year!

Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences was officially established in 1916 by the Texas Legislature. The first hospital consisted of a barn built in 1888. Texans are extremely lucky to have such a cutting edge facility right here in our own backyard. While some people think of the hospital as being for emergencies only, it is a full service facility offering all types of services from surgery to reproduction to dentistry and more. They can perform a wide range of procedures from simple floats to intensive care for animals. We hope to give you a glimpse inside of Texas A&M University’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH), to see what they have to offer, learn about their equipment and services and understand how the hospital works.

There are more than 500 students currently enrolled in the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine professional program (DVM) at Texas A&M University. Approximately 10 to- 20 percent of the students plan to be large animal or equine veterinarians. This number can vary from year to year.

What makes Texas A&M University so unique is that as a teaching hospital they have to be knowledgeable about the newest technology, procedures and medications available in order to keep their students on top of what is happening in the world of veterinary medicine. What this means for us as consumers is that if your horse or large animal needs the most advanced, specialized care, Texas A&M is the place to bring your animal.

Kirk Eddleman, Assistant Hospital Administrator of Texas A&M’s Large Animal Hospital says, “We are more like a human hospital than a private veterinary practice because of our multiple departments, specialized services, laboratories, business functions, and having in-house residents and interns being exposed to new cases and learning experiences on a daily basis. Our hospital is also similar to a human medical center because of our highly trained specialists and state-of-art diagnostic imaging equipment that is utilized.

Large Animal Clinical Sciences employs more than 40 veterinarians who specialize in just about every area of large animal medicine and surgery. These include Food Animal Medicine & Surgery, Equine Orthopedic Surgery, Equine Soft Tissue Surgery, Equine Lameness, Emergency & Critical Care, Ophthalmology, Radiology, Equine Dentistry, Internal Medicine, Infectious Diseases & Environmental Health, Equine Theriogenology (Reproduction), Zoological Medicine and more. The majority of the veterinarians are Board Certified in their specialties – which means they have completed three years of residency training under a boarded specialist, logged the required number of cases and passed a grueling exam. In addition, the hospital has 8 to10 residents and interns. These are veterinarians who want to further their education and become board certified in a specialty area of veterinary medicine. In addition, there are more than 130 veterinary specialists in other disciplines employed by the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The College’s veterinarians, technical staff, and facilities are among the best in the world. They have established multiple contingency plans and have systems in place to handle virtually any medical crisis that may arise 24-hours a day, 365 days per year.

With foaling season already upon us, the remainder of this article will focus on the Foal Large Animal ICU. May’s article will explore other services Texas A&M University’s VMTH has to offer. I have seen the Large Animal Hospital, ICU and Neonatal ICU personally and it is simply amazing. Words cannot describe the feeling you get when you witness such a facility and its state-of-the-art equipment for the first time. It hardly seems like an “animal” hospital at all. It is a place that, if given the opportunity, you should take a drive to and experience for yourself.

Foals are routinely treated in the Large Animal ICU. Spring is the busiest time for the LA ICU as you can imagine. The staff can be faced with foals unable to stand and nurse, to ones with major fractures needing supportive care. Several of the faculty clinicians are experts in the field of neonatal medicine with board certification in either Emergency & Critical Care or Equine Medicine. In addition, LA ICU technicians receive extensive training in the care and treatment of sick foals. This can be a comforting thought when we are trying to save a sometimes very expensive investment.

The LA ICU is equipped with special instruments and supplies to care for sick foals. They maintain a large stock of feeding supplies, milk supplements, starter feeds, and other items. It is common for foals to be tube fed or bottle fed when they are too sick to stand. As they improve, they are trained to nurse the mare or in the case of orphans, they are trained to drink from a pan.

Frequently, neonatal foals require continuous oxygen support, and a variety of fluids and plasma products. The LA ICU was specifically designed with foals in mind. It is equipped with three large mare-foal stalls that allow the staff to separate and treat sick foals without removing them from the mare, ensuring the mare/foal bond as well as a less stressful situation for the foal. In addition, the LA ICU utilizes several rolling foal cages that can be placed inside or outside of the stall or rolled into the neonatal unit as needed. When I saw one of these cages it reminded me of a large steel crib. The neonatal unit is a part of the LA ICU designed to provide care to neonates (especially orphans) requiring very intensive care. Additionally, all of the foal stalls and cages have access to custom-made pads to prevent the foals from injuring themselves.

Good nursing is crucial when caring for sick foals. Because foals can be so labor intensive, the Texas A&M staff has organized a group of approximately 100 student volunteers referred to as the Foal Team. This team of students provides coverage of the unit both on nights and weekends. Foal Team volunteers stay with the sickest foals, to monitor clean and feed them, while keeping them comfortable and sitting sternally. The Foal Team is a huge asset to the hospital and is just another one of the many benefits of being associated with a major University.

The health status of the foals being treated dictates how many foals they can support at one time. Some may need very intensive, one-on-one care, while others just need some help nursing or getting around on an injured leg. Some foals may be orphans while others, cannot stand. Whatever the circumstance, the foals receive the specialized care they need to get them off to a healthy start in life.

The LA ICU’s seven stalls are all capable of supporting foals, and the rolling cages provide them with a great deal of flexibility. The Neonatal Unit can accommodate four to five orphan foals while the Isolation Unit is equipped with two special mare/foal stalls. Eddleman says they have always been able to accommodate at least one more foal, no matter how many they have at the time.

One of the most memorable foal survival stories Eddleman recalls from several years ago involved a pregnant mare suffering from colic that had to be euthanized due to a ruptured stomach. The foal she was carrying, delivered by C-section, was very premature and had to be placed on a ventilator immediately. He did not have a very good prognosis but the owners elected to give him a chance. Because the foal was on a ventilator for several days, the staff affectionately nicknamed him “Venti-foal.” It was touch-and-go for a while, but after several weeks of intensive care, the foal went home. I can’t help believe that he would have made it without the ventilator and the excellent medical and nursing care provided by the veterinarians and staff in the LA ICU.

In Part Two of “Making the Grade” we will look deeper into Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. We will learn more about their staff, equipment, facilities, surgical capabilities and more. Texas A&M University - A world class facility we can depend on to provide the very best care and treatment for our equine friends.

See Part 2 next month!

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