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Tufts at Tech Helps Rocky Heal

Nancy R’s love for her husky, Rocky, is priceless.

“He’s like one of my kids,’’ she said.

The veterinary care her beloved dog needed was more than she could readily afford.

That made Rocky a perfect candidate for Tufts at Tech, a veterinary clinic run by students at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and located at Worcester Technical High School. The clinic offers affordable care for family pets in Central Massachusetts.

The clinic serves clients with limited financial means from the greater Worcester area, who have pre-qualified for subsidized animal care.  The clinic has also spayed and neutered hundreds of animals in the area, which helps to control the pet overpopulation.

“Tufts at Tech is a big reason my dog is alive today,’’ Nancy said.

She brought Rocky into the clinic with an eye so irritated that he could barely keep it open,  said Dr. Casey Connors, who was then a fourth-year veterinary student. He had volunteered at the clinic for years, in addition to mandatory weeks there during his clinical training.

When Dr. Connors met Rocky, he had begun losing the pigment in his nose and around his mouth and eyes over the last few months but had remained his normal friendly, rambunctious self. He had been seen at Tufts at Tech a few weeks before Dr. Connors met him and the team treating him that day suspected vitiligo, a cosmetic issue that posed no major health concerns.

Nancy had already scheduled an appointment to have a biopsy of his nose taken and examined by a pathologist at Tufts at Tech to confirm the diagnosis. Unfortunately before that appointment arrived he developed the severe eye irritation.

Rocky had lost more than 90% of the pigment on his nasal planum and around his mouth. Most striking was the appearance of his left iris, which had a milky white, gelatinous appearance. His eye was bright red all around.

Dr. Connors brought up the possibility of a rare condition he had been told about in class called “Uveodermatologic Syndrome”. The symptoms fit and huskies are one of the breeds at higher risk for this disease. Dr. Greg Wolfus, who supervises the clinic, encouraged Dr. Connors to research this before and the diagnosis proved correct.

The pathologist was so excited about this case that along with his report he requested some pictures to use for teaching purposes.

Rocky was sent home with a prescription that his owner would give him. The veterinarian  staff eventually tapered the steroids and started treating him with another immunosuppressive which would have fewer side effects.

Rocky readily improved and today is his old happy, energetic self, “running around like crazy,’’ Nancy said with a laugh.

Tufts at Tech was “a blessing for my dog’’ and for others treated at the clinic, she said.

Connors also became a big fan of the clinic and the service it provides, both for the animals and their owners and for the students, who receive invaluable hands-on experience, he said. “There is such an opportunity there to grow and learn,’’ he said.  “You can only learn so much from reading a book.’’

The clinic offers more than the basics, he said.

“This was a difficult case and I’m very proud of the outcome,’’ he said. “It speaks to the ability of a clinic like that to function at a very high level.’’

His work with Tufts at Tech and other outreach helped him earn the Honos Civicus award, given for community service and active citizenship.

In addition to the honor, the resume experience and the working lessons, he earned something else, he said.

“At least every other day, I receive deep, heart-felt appreciate and a hug from a happy from a client,’’ he said.

Like so much at Tufts at Tech, that reward cannot be easily measured in dollars and cents.