Dr Liza – Vet Tails – June Story

Vet Tails Excerpt – To read more about my adventures, read Vet Tails available as a book or e-book from https://www.drliza.co.nz/shop/
I started work and thoroughly enjoyed it, in fact I couldn’t believe that I was getting paid to do what I love and I was working nowhere near as hard as I was as a student! Initially I worked at the main clinic with the two senior partners to prepare me for my role with the third partner at the satellite clinic. The nurses I worked with had hinted to me that I might be in for a bit of a challenge though!

The nurses were not wrong; my new colleague was a lot older than I was, had poor communication skills and little patience but nonetheless I did my best to enjoy my time at work and make a difference to the lives of my patients and the people who cared for them.

One day I anesthetised a cat in order to neuter him. My colleagues had insisted that I used their anaesthetic protocols making use of less modern drugs which was different to what I had been taught but I did what I was told. Unfortunately as I induced the kitty called Yogi, his heart stopped. This was a rare reaction occurring occasionally with less modern anaesthetics and additionally we believed that the cat must have had an undetected heart condition. My senior colleague helped me to resuscitate the young and handsome Yogi. Although we managed to get his heart started again and his breathing eventually stabilised, it would be hours before he finally awoke from his anaesthesia and we would know how severely he had been affected by the incident.

Hours went by and I felt terrible. Yogi’s loving owners had trusted me with his life and instead of a simple procedure to have him neutered he had almost died. Yogi eventually came around and it was clear that he had a degree of brain damage, being disoriented and unable to walk in a co-ordinated manner. His owners were very understanding and patiently awaited more news as we did everything that we could to help him recover.

Ash and I knew that in South Africa, the hyperbaric oxygen chamber that was used to help divers to recover from the bends (a condition where nitrogen bubbles become trapped in joints or other areas of the body and can be exceptionally painful and life threatening) was also used for our scuba diving instructor’s niece to help her recover from a brain injury that she had sustained. I began to research whether it had been used in veterinary medicine and found a few articles indicating successful outcomes for animals with a number of health conditions in the USA.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) basically means giving oxygen under pressure. This allows for a far greater amount of oxygen to be available to tissues in the body. Oxygen at optimal levels has profound anti-inflammatory effects; it helps to rid the body of infection both directly by killing certain bugs and indirectly by supporting the immune system and assists to accelerate healing, often dramatically!

I spoke to my bosses about potentially using this treatment to help Yogi and after Yogi’s family agreed to proceed I arranged treatment for Yogi at a facility set up to treat humans. The facility was the vision of a wonderful man called Pete. We instantly had a rapport when we spoke on the phone for the first time and he instructed that we needed to bring Yogi after hours so that he could be sneaked into the human facility.

Pete was a jovial man with a well-groomed white beard and solid stature. He reminded me of my step dad Dave, also a New Zealander, who had been tragically shot and killed in a hijacking in South Africa just two years before. Pete’s smile put me immediately at ease and gave me hope that everything with Yogi would turn out OK.

Yogi coped well with his treatment in the hyperbaric chamber and he made good progress, almost completely recovering except for not regaining his sense of hearing. I was so relieved that he could live a good quality of life after the awful event and was inspired that many other animals may benefit from HBOT.

Yogi had led me to Pete who was passionate about sharing this amazing treatment of hyperbaric oxygen therapy not only with people but animals too. Pete and I began to work together educating vets about its potential use in veterinary practice with the vision of having purpose-built chambers for animals readily available in New Zealand but it would be a costly exercise.

At the time, Pete’s facility also hosted training for athletes called “Simulated Altitude Training” or “Interval Hypoxic Training” (IHT) designed to help enhance athletic performance. With my athletic background sparking my interest, my mind began putting together the opportunity… we needed money to make HBOT available to animals, IHT enhances athletic performance and what would happen if we could use it to make race horses perform better? I predicted that an affirmative answer to this question would help to fund things nicely.

Altitude training is used by a number of elite athletes with the principle being that if they spend time living and training at altitude where there is slightly less oxygen available in the air then their body adapts by becoming more efficient with the use of oxygen. This means that when they return to sea level, their body is so much more efficient at using oxygen to produce energy that there is an improvement in performance of 3 – 8%, improved recovery and increased energy levels.

Instead of going to live or train at altitude, IHT brought the benefits of altitude training to the athlete. With IHT, people would sit at a table with a gas mask and breathe an air mix that had a lower concentration of oxygen. This would be for an hour a day, five days a week for three weeks and the effects would last for a few months. Pete’s team were already getting some great results with their athletes and so we began to strategise how we could apply the human training to equine athletes….