An ordinary day at the Animal Emergency and Referral Center in Flowood usually marks a day in the patient’s life that is anything but normal.
That was the case for Oreo, a patient benefiting from the services provided by the center. The 9-year-old mixed-breed dog developed a mast cell tumor on her thigh and a mass near her mammary glands. She was first diagnosed by emergency clinicians, which led to a surgery consultation and ultimately, the decision to remove the two masses.
Providing emergency services 365 days a year, staff at the Mississippi State University-affiliated AERC see trauma cases such as fractures, gunshot wounds, impalements and lacerations, as well as a wide variety of unfortunate ingestions.
“There’s a lot of poisonings,” hospital administrator Darrell Phillips said. “We manage many patients that have upset stomachs from eating things they shouldn’t, including patients that have been poisoned by eating things such as recreational drugs, chocolate or antifreeze. We also see patients that require surgical removal of items they’ve eaten, including clothing, rocks and money.”
In addition to providing after-hours emergency services, the center also provides specialty services such as ophthalmology, dermatology, internal medicine, diagnostic imaging and dentistry, which Phillips said complement the existing services in the Jackson metro area.
In Oreo’s case, it was the clinic’s surgical services that were needed. She was put on a steroid regimen leading up to the surgery, which helped reduce the size of the masses and limit the damage from the surgery.
The day of the procedure, a team of dedicated staff prepared Oreo for surgery. Veterinary technicians and clinicians brought her from her kennel, placed her under anesthesia, shaved and prepared the surgery sites, monitored her vital signs, and finally positioned her on the operating table.
Throughout this process, AERC surgeon Amanda Wagoner was preparing to perform the operation. For the 2011 MSU College of Veterinary Medicine alumna, the goal of the surgery was to make Oreo more comfortable by removing the masses and submitting them for examination by a pathologist.
Wagoner is one of approximately 50 employees of the Animal Emergency and Referral Center. The South Carolina native joined the clinic in September 2016 following the completion of a surgery residency at a private referral practice in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Like many veterinary professionals, she grew up with a love of animals and began working toward her goal of becoming a veterinarian in middle school.
After receiving her undergraduate degree from Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina, Wagoner enrolled in MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. She said she was attracted to MSU by the hands-on experiences offered by the college and its welcoming environment, but in the beginning, she envisioned returning to her hometown to practice.
“I thought I would become a general practitioner and move back to South Carolina to practice at the family clinic my parents and grandparents took their pets to,” Wagoner said. “We had a really deep connection with this practice. But, during the surgery rotation in my third year of vet school, I realized I really enjoyed surgery.”
She now performs between four and eight complex surgeries every week at the AERC.
“I really like being able to fix animals, and we get to do a lot of that,” Wagoner said. “You take a fracture, put it back together and in two months, it’s healed.
“Even with Oreo, though we may ultimately diagnose cancer in this patient, we’ve still been able to help her quality of life,” she continued. “We may not have cured her, but we’ve removed the cancer from her body and we can obtain an accurate diagnosis, which will lead to the next steps in her treatment.”
A handful of fourth-year veterinary students watched and assisted while Wagoner operated on Oreo, benefiting from the same type of hands-on learning that she enjoyed as a student.
All College of Veterinary Medicine students work a two-week rotation at the center in Flowood. The experience helps broaden their perspectives by demonstrating animal care in different settings.
Josh Wells, a fourth-year CVM student, went with his fellow students to assist at the nearby Jackson Zoo while they were in the area and helped with a physical examination on a cougar. The Vardaman native, who plans to practice both small and large animal medicine, said his AERC experience was educational.
“At this point in our education, we’ve learned a lot of things, and repetition is key,” Wells said. “The more you see, the better you get. By the last year, we don’t have as many questions, so it definitely helps the speed of the clinic. Every time you have someone with more experience who can impart some wisdom, it’s always great.”
Summer Walton Graves, a fourth-year CVM student from Florence, said Oreo’s surgery provided a lesson in proper technique. She also noticed Wagoner’s detailed knowledge of canine anatomy, which allowed the surgeon to avoid unintentionally cutting veins or arteries.
For Wagoner, the opportunity to have a teaching role was one of the appeals of working at AERC.
“Being able to have a small influence on their education is a lot of fun for me, because a lot of people had to do that for me to get me where I am today,” Wagoner said. “It’s really rewarding to be able to give back to veterinary medicine.”
Phillips said supporting the veterinary medicine community is important to AERC, and he works to ensure it has good relationships with pet owners, clinic staff and CVM students, as well as area veterinarians, who send referrals to the clinic.
“The AERC emergency service is open all the time, so we can always provide emergency veterinary care,” Phillips, a 1983 CVM graduate, said. “When the other veterinary clinics in the area are not open, we are available to provide care for their patients.
“AERC also provides specialty services, which complement the care provided at local clinics,” he continued. “It is really a team effort, with the specialists and local doctors working together to ensure the patient receives the best possible care.”
Since opening, the clinic has seen patients from at least 58 counties. Approximately 10 percent of its patients come from out-of-state visitors that happen to be in the Jackson metro area, with the majority of the patients coming from Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties or the Delta.
The clinic usually sees an uptick in visits on weekends and holidays, with three-day weekends typically bringing in a large number of emergency patients. Phillips said he and the AERC staff always keep in mind that each patient is someone’s beloved pet, and they are well-trained to manage a vast array of medical situations and help the owners make important pet health care decisions.
The AERC staff works well together, Wagoner said, which helps them take care of the pets they are seeing today while preparing the veterinarians of tomorrow.
“We’ll sit in the doctor’s office and talk about difficult cases and try to figure out what the best course of action is for those animals,” Wagoner said. “Ultimately, that’s what we’re here to do—try to help animals and try to give them a good quality of life for as long as possible.”