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Animal Care

Our Compassionate, Life-Saving Care: A Year in Review

From dogs to cats, donkeys to bongos and countless animals in between, our expert teams at the NC State Veterinary Hospital save lives every single day. As the year draws to a close, we’re featuring 10 notable stories of our hospital teams going above and beyond for our community over the past 12 months. 

Elf spends some time outside with his clinical team near the end of his time in isolation.
Elf spends some time outside with his clinical team near the end of his time in isolation.


First pneumonia. Then C. diff., diarrhea and an autoimmune reaction. Elf the donkey survived a potentially deadly cascade of crises because of the problem-solving and compassionate care of the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine’s equine team. Elf’s owner knew NC State was the only chance Elf had to survive. “What we can do is try our hardest, and that’s what we did,” our professionals told her.


In 2010, NC State College of Veterinary Medicine cardiologist Terri DeFrancesco pulled 18 worms from the heart of a tiny Chihuahua named Brandi, saving her life. The trucker who had rescued Brandi from a Louisiana highway sent the doctor a heartfelt thank you and an update. “That’s an amazing thing,” DeFrancesco says. “This dog was close to death when we got her.” Updates on Brandi’s recovery came at the perfect time, during National Heartworm Awareness Month, from one of the only places in the country that does the life-saving heart procedure.

Vinny’s head gets imaged in the NC State Veterinary Hospital’s standing equine CT machine.
The difference between the CT, left, and an X-ray for Vinny.


For Vinny, a playful and curious horse, the College of Veterinary Medicine’s new standing CT took the guesswork out of treating a serious infection. “With the CT, it was instantly obvious what tooth it was,” Vinny’s local veterinarian said. “You could clearly see that the area between the sinus and oral cavity had been completely taken over by infection. It’s so obvious on the CT, and it’s just not obvious on the X-ray.”

Sarah Saylor, current Small Animal Surgery resident and former Small Animal Rotating Intern, met Leo in the ER and noticed he was not responsive, unable to walk and cold with a low heart rate.


What do Katy Perry and Leo the tabby cat have in common? They’re ready to “Roar” their survival stories and want the world to hear it. When Chapel Hill “kitty purr-y” fan Leo arrived at the NC State Veterinary Hospital in April confused, cold and limp, his care  team recognized a life-threatening condition that required immediate brain surgery. Thanks to their attentive care, Leo returned home just days later. “The whole thing was a miracle,” his owner said.

Dr. Sophie Amirsultan, small animal emergency and critical care resident
Kacie and her mom at home in Clayton


Kacie’s family knew she was exceptional, but they didn’t realize that trait extended to her health until she became sick earlier this year. And who better to treat the special calico cat than the world-renowned experts at the College of Veterinary Medicine? NC State alumni advocated for charismatic Kacie at every stage of her treatment for a serious infection.


When Great Dane puppy Bentley broke his back in a car accident in May, his family worried he might never walk again. An innovative spinal surgery at the College of Veterinary Medicine started him on the right foot, and Bentley is back to walking and playing today, with some additional hardware and a few new dance moves. “That’s the best feeling in the world. That’s why we do what we do,” one veterinarian says.


Jax, a 3-year-old male bongo from The Virginia Zoo, came to NC State’s Large Animal Hospital in August with fractured and chronically infected horns from playing too roughly in the dirt. Using the hospital’s new equine CT machine, the 450-pound forest antelope’s care team pinpointed the infection’s spread and decided to amputate part of Jax’s horns to prevent it from recurring. Together with The Virginia Zoo’s vets, NC State specialists in exotic and ruminant medicine, anesthesia and radiology treated Jax’s infection and trimmed his horns to a safe level for antelope antics.

Dr. Marine Traverson, assistant professor of soft tissue and oncologic surgery, holds Bento for an examination while small animal surgery resident Dr. Aidan Chambers palpates his chest before his surgery at the NC State Veterinary Hospital.


Bento the cat’s cancer diagnosis arrived with more unwelcome news: his type of cancer was rare, and he needed another surgery to make sure the malignant cells were gone. But thanks to a grant from Petco Love and the Blue Buffalo Pet Cancer Treatment Fund sponsoring Bento’s expert care at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine, his owners could focus on Bento’s recovery instead of its cost.

Neurology resident Dr. Gilad Fefer embraces Hollen Tovar during a post-operative recheck at the NC State Veterinary Hospital.
Chelsea Tovar and her sons visit their German shorthaired pointer puppy, Hollen, at NC State Veterinary Hospital in May.
An MRI image, at left, shows Hollen’s depressed skull fracture pushing on her brain. The large, diamond-shaped dark spot in her brain is her midbrain bleed. A 3D reconstruction of her CT image, at right, shows the fracture at the back left side of her skull.


German shorthaired pointer Hollen was just 10 weeks old when an encounter with another dog left her with a traumatic brain injury. NC State nursed Hollen through a craniotomy and a sodium syndrome so rare, her veterinarians say there are no other documented cases in dogs. Thanks to them, Hollen is bounding into a life of beach trips, pup cups and endless cuddles with her family. “I was just blown away by NC State’s vet teams,” her owner says. “We’d have trusted them to operate on one of us!”

Dr. Greg Lewbart operates on a fish
Dr. Greg Lewbart, center, removed a lure from a Bass Pro Shop fish.


A customer at the Bass Pro Shops in Concord, North Carolina, apparently threw a lure into a tank displaying live fish, and a largemouth bass grabbed the lure. While the bass struggled to free itself, a 50-pound blue catfish swallowed both the bass and the lure. Derek Bossi, supervisor of the Bass Pro Shops-Base Camp Live Exhibits Operations, called on the College of Veterinary Medicine and Dr. Greg Lewbart, professor of aquatic animal medicine, to see whether there was anything to be done. Lewbart and his vet med team headed off to Concord and successfully performed surgery on the fish, giving three DVM students and one resident valuable experience and another opportunity to serve our community.