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Veterinary Technician Pursues Interest in Veterinary Neurology

Veterinary Technicians-Supporting the Advancement of Veterinary Research One Patient at a Time

Stephanie Gilliam pursues her interest in veterinary neurology

Working in the neurology/neurosurgery department at a veterinary teaching hospital can be emotionally difficult-not every patient walks away. Yet recoveries make every challenge worthwhile for Stephanie Gilliam, a registered veterinary technician (RVT) who works as the neurology/neurosurgery technician at the University of Missouri Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

“A lot of our patients are completely paralyzed or close to it when they come to us,” explains Gilliam, who is certified in canine physical rehabilitation. “The day we see them move their legs or walk on their own is the greatest. That is why I do what I do.”

Gilliam, who has worked at the university-in a research laboratory with Morris Animal Foundation (MAF)-funded researchers and at the teaching hospital-collaborates with veterinary medical students and neurology specialists to treat a variety of ailments that affect the nervous system.

The most common diseases are intervertebral disk disease and seizures, says Gilliam, who adds, “Most of these patients recover just fine and end up living normal happy lives.”

Ever since she was a kid, Gilliam knew she wanted to work with animals, but a job with Dr. Joe Kornegay, a veterinary neurologist who specializes in muscular dystrophy research, stoked her interest in neurology research.

“That is when I started to love neurology,” she says. “My favorite part of it is the surgery cases, but the medical cases are interesting as well. Who doesn’t think that brain surgery is interesting?”

Hands-on experience has given Gilliam a keen sense of respect for the important role research plays in the health and wellness of animals and, by extension, people.

“Our patients are living longer, happier lives because of research,” she says. “We are constantly finding new treatments, surgical procedures, etc., to help animals live longer lives. Research is essential to both human and veterinary medicine.”

At the teaching hospital, researchers are studying a canine disease called degenerative myelopathy, a spontaneously occurring spinal cord disorder in adult dogs. The Foundation has funded at least 25 animal health studies at the university, including a Veterinary Student Scholar project that addressed this disorder.

“Dr. Joan Coates, a veterinary neurologist [and a team of researchers, including MAF-funded Veterinary Student Scholar Rachael Cohen] discovered the gene that they believe to be responsible for degenerative myelopathy,” says Gilliam.

To read more about this MAF-funded Veterinary Student Scholar study, titled “Risk Factors for Spinal Cord Injury,” visit the MAF Web site. Information about the Veterinary Student Scholar program is also posted online.

Dr. Coates’s study was originally funded by the AKC Canine Health Foundation.

Recent findings from the university indicate that the gene believed to cause degenerative myelopathy also causes Lou Gehrig’s disease in people.

“We are still working to learn more about this disease so that we can hopefully help the dogs as well as the people living with it,” Gilliam adds.

While Gilliam loves her work, she recognizes limitations to what medical professionals can accomplish. And, as an animal lover, that reality is a frequent source of frustration.

“The most challenging aspect [of my job] is the fact that we can’t ‘cure’ every patient,” she says.

Posted by MAFon November 5, 2009.

Categories: Animal health, Veterinary news, Veterinary research


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