HIGH-TECH PET CARE; OWNERS SHELL OUT BIG BUCKS TO KEEP ANIMALS ALIVE.
Sally Apfelbaum didn't want to hear the advice from her veterinarian: Put Pierre to sleep.
A cancer as big as a grapefruit clogged the chest of the 6-year-old cat, partially collapsing his lungs.
But Apfelbaum thought Pierre was too young to die. She brought him to the Veterinary Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania, where an oncology team used chemotherapy to shrink the tumor.
Pierre's cancer will never go into complete remission, and he will require more chemotherapy every few weeks. But Apfelbaum, who lives in New York, doesn't mind the trips or the hundreds of dollars in bills.
``They did wonders for him,'' said Apfelbaum, stroking Pierre's striped fur, made even softer by the treatments. ``He's having a very nice life.''
Apfelbaum is among a growing number of Americans seeking and willing to pay for the latest in high-tech health care for their pets. From kidney transplants for cats to open-heart surgery on dogs, new treatments are saving pets that wouldn't have survived 10 years ago.
Along with the new care, though, come the same types of ethical dilemmas that doctors and loved ones face in human health care.
Early in a pet's stay at Pennsylvania's veterinary center, one of the most advanced in the nation with about 23,000 patients a year, doctors try to get owners to talk about how far to pursue treatment.
Joan Hendricks, the hospital's chief of critical care, wants owners to know it when a pet doesn't stand a good chance. ``They don't have to go through the emotional upheaval and spend all this money,'' she said.
Karin Sorenmo, an assistant professor of oncology at the center, believes it's inappropriate to put animals through cancer treatment so aggressive that they need prolonged hospitalization. ``Animals exist in the present,'' she said, ``and this is how we understand their existence.''
To help families decide how to proceed, the hospital also gives daily estimates of costs. In some cases, the financial reality forces tough choices: Pet owners may decide to euthanize an animal that could only be saved at great expense.
Kidney transplants cost $5,000, which includes the charge to remove the kidney from the donor cat. A procedure to open up a dog's heart valves using a balloon runs from $1,200 to $1,500. A stomach ultrasound costs about $180, and an overnight stay starts at $80.
``The charges are high compared to local vets','' said hospital director Barry Stupine. ``But they're low compared to human medicine.''
At the Pennsylvania hospital, animals hooked to IVs are rolled on stretchers through the halls. For the less pressing cases, workers gingerly carry animals in their arms or direct them on leashes.
Inside a darkly lit room off the emergency room, veterinary cardiologist Meg Sleeper runs a device over the chest of a cat lying on a table. With the echocardiogram machine, the same top-of-the-line model used for humans, she can examine the cat's heart on a monitor, looking for abnormalities.
In a critical-care wing that can hold 12 animals, Hendricks and her team give constant care to pets.
``We're here moment to moment if crisis breaks,'' Hendricks said.
One Rottweiler has made his home in the unit, which costs about $150 to $160 a day, for nearly two months. The dog suffers from bouts of pneumonia caused by an underlying nervous system problem. His esophagus doesn't work properly, and when he's home, he tries to eat things he can't.
``He's out of danger here,'' said Hendricks. ``But the question is, can he go home?''
MORE THAN DR. DOLITTLE
Samples of advances in animal medicine:
Pet owners who wince at the thought of a cancer-ridden dog losing a leg can now consider an option besides amputation. The process, called limb sparring, costs $1,000 to $1,500, about twice as much as amputation.
Doctors there keep a ``bone bank'' - limbs collected from animals that died of noninfectious diseases. Surgeons replace cancerous bones with the healthy ones.
Veterinary surgeons at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine perform 25 to 40 kidney transplants a week.
To address a cardiac condition found in the valves of dogs, veterinarians mimic the balloon angioplasty technique used to open up human arteries. The procedure, called a balloon valvioplasty, costs $1,200 to $1,500 and generally has a low death rate.
- Associated Press
PHOTO (1--Color) At the University of Pennsylvania's pet hospital, Sinbad, a cat hit by a car, has his heart monitored after surgery in Philadelphia.
(2--Color) Veterinary student Katy Blach assists with Sinbad's high-tech care.
Chris Gardner/Associated Press
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Dec 5, 1998|
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