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Spotlight on the Large Animal Surgery Team

The CVM Staff Council is excited to highlight the Large Animal Surgery team, located in the Equine Farm Animal Hospital in the Vet Medical Center (VMC) in the August 2018 edition of CVM eNews.

The CVM Staff Council had the opportunity to sit down with the Katie Stevens of the Large Animal Surgery team to learn more about the work they do.

From left to right: Katie Stevens, Whitney Michaud, Judy Sobczak and Jennifer Stierly.

Staff Council: What kind of surgeries do you encounter at the hospital?

Katie Stevens: In our specific service, we see only large animals and do almost every kind of surgery imaginable.  We perform a large number of throat surgeries, castrations, arthroscopies, hernia repairs, horse colic surgeries and eye surgeries. The surgeries tend to be species specific, but occasionally, a procedure typically done on one species is performed on another species. We’ve been known to use a horse specific surgical procedure on a cow.

Staff Council: What species of patients come into the clinic?

Katie Stevens: Typically, we see “Old McDonald” farm animals without the cats and dogs or birds. This includes cows, horses, sheep, pigs, goats, donkeys and alpacas. Every once in a while, we see a giraffe. Last year, we had a reindeer and its companion reindeer visit us. We even had a bear with a dental issue as a patient.

Staff Council: How big is your unit?

Katie Stevens: In addition to the surgeons, there are five Licensed Veterinary Technicians (LVTs) and one assistant. Two LVTs work in Receiving giving patients antibiotics before surgery. The assistant cleans and holds the animals and the three other LVTs work in surgery directly with the surgeon. I work as an LVT in the actual surgery area. Except for the assistant, everyone is a certified LVT.

Staff Council: What kind of training is needed to be a LVT?

Katie Stevens: You have to complete a two-year vet technician certification program, but the rest is all on-the-job training.

Staff Council: In your view, what draws a vet tech to Surgery?

Katie Stevens: It takes a person with a deep curiosity, a need to know what is in the patient, to do surgery. That person wants to “unwrap the present and see what’s inside.” People who choose Medicine like to perform small changes and see if it makes the patient feel better. People in Surgery want to have the answers right now. They are results driven, ambitious and impatient. Maybe even adrenalin junkies. They like to fix things and see them work immediately.

Staff Council: What would your elevator speech sound like?

Katie Stevens: As a large animal surgery LVT, I set up for large animal surgeries. I help induce the animals under general anesthesia, assist the surgeons during the procedures and clean up afterwards. I help open items for the surgeon, keeping the instruments sterile. After surgery, I bring the patient back to recovery, clean up the surgery room, sterilize the instruments and then start all over again. I also help teach the students and residents how to be good surgeons and practice good, sterile techniques.

Staff Council: What is a normal case load for any given day?

Katie Stevens: We perform about six cases a day, which is a lot for large animals. If we do more than that it gets pretty tough. We also train and supervise first- and second-year students so they can do our work during nights and weekends in an LVT capacity. The LVTs also rotate on-call for orthopedic surgeries. Sometimes, an LVT is called in on the weekends to assist the students. For example, if a fracture comes in and is in need of an arthroscopy, an LVT is called in.

Staff Council: What keeps you up at night?

Katie Stevens: The organization and the communication needed in the work is extraordinary. Trying to organize the day and have it run as I envisioned is challenging but when it happens, which is rare, it really makes me happy.

Staff Council: What is the hardest part of your job?

Katie Stevens: You really have to separate your emotions from the work that needs to be done. It is really hard sometimes to meet with the patient’s owners and pass along bad news to them about the patient. Sometimes the job can be difficult because you rarely have the opportunity to see the patients after surgery and you don’t get to see them recover and go home. On the occasion that we do, it is so rewarding. The other night, I was able to visit a patient that had surgery for a fractured leg and he was doing great!

Staff Council: What percentage of the patients make it through surgery?

Katie Stevens: Close to 97-98% of the patients make it through surgery. Very few die on the table. Most patient issues arise during the recovery phase. In recovery, the survival rate can be as low as 70%-80%. Horse recoveries can be very complicated because they need to stand on all four legs. A dog or cat may have an amputated leg but they usually adjust pretty well and are still mobile. With a horse, if one leg is injured, then the other legs begin to compensate to bear the weight of the injured leg and issues with the other legs arise. If infection can’t be controlled, the patient may need to be euthanized. Incisional infections post-colic surgery that never heal are also common in horses. You pick and choose which cases you grow attached to because you aren’t always able to save them.

The other piece to mention is that sometimes CUHA is a tertiary hospital. Patients have already been to other veterinary practices and hospitals that have tried to treat the patient and failed, so they come to us as their last resort. We have even received patients that have been shipped from the University of British Columbia, UC Davis and Tufts to be treated here.

Staff Council: What’s the most exciting case you’ve worked on?

Katie Stevens: I like seeing the biology within a patient. I really enjoy colic surgeries or abdominal surgeries in horses. The inside of an animal is just as great as the outside. Interesting stuff happens all the time. We treated a rescue cow that came in last December. He had been abused and was surrendered then transferred and moved around. He had leg fractures, including one at his shoulder where his leg came out. It healed at a right angle and hadn’t been treated so we had to re-fracture it to repair it. He just went home this month!

I really, really enjoy what we do!

Staff Council: Thank you, Large Animal Surgery Team, for being our CVM Staff Council’s August Spotlight! To learn more about the Large Animal Surgery team, please read the related article:

Heart of the Hospital: Licensed Veterinary Technicians

Next month, the Spotlight will be on the Green Team. Have ideas or suggestions for an upcoming Spotlight? Email us at!

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