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NCSU Opens New Veterinary Center

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BY JAY PRICE – Staff Writer

RALEIGH — Many humans would be thrilled to have their relatives treated at a hospital as modern and well-equipped as N.C. State University‘s new veterinary medical center.

In a sense, that’s why it was built and stocked with state-of-the-art equipment and organized around clinics in specialties that didn’t even exist in the early 1980s when the building it will replace was built.

“There has been a major change in the attitudes of pet owners in the past few decades to view their pets more as family and not just backyard pets,” said Michael Davidson, director of medical services and an associate dean at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Owners have come to expect and be willing to pay for high-quality health care, and that’s what’s driving this.”

University leaders will dedicate the new Randall B. Terry Jr. Companion Animal Veterinary Medical Center in a ceremony today. At 110,000 square feet, the $72 million animal hospital is as large as a shopping center and about twice the size of the old hospital next door.

The old hospital, which will eventually become a wellness center, was designed to accommodate up to 12,000 cases a year. Last year it handled 20,000. The new hospital is designed for up to 35,000.

It’s not only one of the nation’s largest animal hospitals, it’s also among the most advanced. The equipment includes a powerful new linear accelerator for cancer radiation treatment in a room that itself cost $1 million to build and features a 14-ton lead door.

There is a CT scan machine more powerful than those in many human hospitals to generate high-resolution images of internal organs; a “biplane fluoroscopy” machine to allow surgeons to visualize internal structures in three dimensions as they work; four ultrasound stations for additional noninvasive imaging; and special rooms shielded with copper to protect delicate equipment used for diagnosing problems with sight and the brain.

There are special areas to isolate animals with highly-contagious illnesses from the rest of the hospital, and other areas that do the opposite: isolate animals with weak auto-immune systems, such as those undergoing marrow transplant therapy, from common illnesses.

‘The gold standard’

“I’m confident that it will be the gold standard for academic veterinary medical centers for many, many years to come,” Davidson said.

University officials say the hospital is an economic engine, drawing pet owners from across the state and nation. It plays a critical role in educating veterinary students, and a less obvious role in research to fight human diseases such as cancer.

Help for humans

Indeed, a large number of major breakthroughs in human medicine have their origins in veterinary medicine, said David Green, a spokesman for the college.

“So this is a cheap way to help humans,” Green said.

Scientists in the vet school and an adjacent research building use what they learn at the hospital in projects at places such as Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill‘s Lineberger Cancer Comprehensive Center.

The hospital is a huge asset for a veterinary college that is one of the nation’s youngest but already among its best, ranked third by U.S. News & World Report.

That’s how it was envisioned by Terry, a High Point businessman who considered his nine golden retrievers his family. When he proposed the hospital, Terry said he wanted it to be a national model.

That vision started with a single sick dog. Like many of the college’s major donors, Terry was impressed with the way one of his pets, a golden named Nike, was treated there.

He became a major fundraiser for the school, donating several million dollars himself before dying in 2004. He left $20 million to help pay for the hospital, then the largest gift in the university’s history. University leaders secured $38 million from the state and continue to raise more money to cover the rest.

Three of Terry’s dogs are expected at the dedication.

Another dog – or at least a 1,200-pound statue of one – will have a more prominent role in the ceremony Friday. In a place of honor out front is a bronze of Hannah, a rescued Newfoundland. She was treated at the college in 1999 for a heart condition, and a cutting-edge procedure that involved implanting an artificial heart valve added five years to her life.

Her grateful owners, Randall and Susan Ward, donated $1.5 million to help build the hospital’s heart pavilion, one of just nine in the nation. Susan Ward also has contributed more than 80 pieces of animal-themed art, most of which are already hanging throughout the building.

Despite the futuristic equipment and what seems like acres of stainless steel, the building comes across as inviting rather than clinical, in part because of Ward’s donated art. Other touches include ample natural light, important not just for the humans who work there but for the animals’ health.

There is a coffee shop with WiFi, snacks and sandwiches, where pet owners can pass the hours while their animal is being treated. Outside, there’s a “contemplation garden,” where owners, and pets, can go for quiet.

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