The donor’s dogs (from left): Tiny, Lefty and Finn. Photos by Dr. Felix Duerr/College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Seventeen years ago, a client brought her dog, Custer, to Colorado State University’s veterinary hospital for heart surgery. Dr. Chris Orton, clinical sciences professor, researcher and cardiac surgeon, was there to help.
“I remember a very reserved, soft-spoken, humble person who was concerned about her dog and wanted to try to do something to help him where there weren’t a lot of treatment options,” said Orton.
Through years of receiving care for her pets at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, the client grew closer with the hospital’s faculty and staff. In 2012, she began making regular donations to support the hospital’s work, while also improving educational opportunities for veterinary students.
In late 2020, the donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, decided to further support the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences with a $6 million endowment to establish chair positions for two of the hospital’s world-class services: $3 million for an Interventional Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery chair; and another $3 million for an Orthopedic Medicine and Mobility chair.
“I really could not have imagined the impact that person would one day have on our relatively new cardiology service, or the impact that she would have on me personally during my career,” said Orton, who will occupy the world’s first-ever endowed chair specifically targeted to veterinary interventional cardiology and cardiac surgery.
The endowment will allow both services to improve and expand, increasing the overall capacity for treatment, surgery and rehabilitation at the hospital – from check-ups and physical therapy to advanced treatment plans and specialized surgeries such as beating-heart mitral valve repair.
Paying it forward
The donor’s previous gifts have funded fellowship positions in interventional cardiology and cardiac surgery, the development of an endowment to support CSU’s Argus Institute, the creation of a world-renowned interventional cardiac operating room at the hospital, and more.
Her most recent gift represents the single largest contribution ever made to both services.
“The gift of two endowments to support the cardiology and orthopedic medicine programs is a testimonial to the international prominence of these programs,” said Dr. Wayne Jensen, professor and head of the college’s Department of Clinical Sciences, who will oversee both chairs. “These endowments will help both programs continue their pursuit of cutting-edge diagnostics and treatments for cardiac and orthopedic diseases in companion animals.”
Dr. Felix Duerr, associate professor of orthopedic medicine and mobility, has been selected as the orthopedic medicine and mobility chair. Duerr specializes in addressing musculoskeletal problems and injury prevention and is particularly interested in finding better treatments for arthritis in pets.
“These gifts are huge,” said Duerr. “They mean so much to us and will change the path of the two services at CSU forever.”
The donor opted to exclude any restrictions or conditions around how the funds can or should be used by the services. She hopes her contribution “gives both services the opportunity to grow and advance treatments and research” and “educate veterinary students at a higher level.”
“I give because I believe, and I hope for better,” she said. “I believe in the hospital; I believe in orthopedic medicine and mobility and the cardiac program. I have hope in their programs for future veterinarians, and I believe in higher education and the opportunities to better the services for the students, for research, for equipment, technology, and better medicine for animals.”
Capacity for care
Inside the Pocket Foundation Hybrid Cardiac Interventional Suite at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, April 13, 2018. Photo by John Eisele/Colorado State University.
In 2015, the donor committed to funding for the hospital’s 1,400-square-foot Pocket Foundation Hybrid Cardiac Interventional Suite, an interventional cardiac operating room with capabilities to treat a multitude of complex cardiac issues in both small and large companion animals, currently unmatched by any other veterinary hospital in the world.
In the first five years of the hybrid OR’s operation, the cardiology service saw a 55% caseload increase – from roughly 1,200 cases to more than 2,000 annually.
While a positive development, the influx of cases also put strain on the service. A portion of the endowment will be used to hire a new faculty member in cardiology, enabling the service to expand its intake capacity for cardiac care.
“Animals with heart disease can live long and fulfilling lives so long as we can provide them with the appropriate medical care, surgical care, and interventional care,” said Dr. Brian Scansen, associate professor of cardiology and head of the cardiology and cardiac surgery service.
The orthopedic medicine and mobility service will use a portion of its funds to support additional staff, as well as research looking at novel arthritis treatments.
Dr. Mark Stetter, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, joined the two service chairs in sharing gratitude for the donor’s ongoing support: “Whether it be helping animals and people, whether it be discovering new cures for diseases, whether it be training the next scientist or veterinarian – we do that each and every day, and we couldn’t do that without your support.”
Dean Mark Stetter (left) listens to Dr. Chris Orton (right) at the ribbon-cutting for the Pocket Foundation Hybrid Cardiac Interventional Suite, May 7, 2018. Photo by John Eisele/Colorado State University.
Kim Tobin, vice president for University Advancement, also shared her heartfelt thanks.
“This loyal donor’s generosity is truly inspiring, and it highlights the transformative power of not only the groundbreaking work of our hospital faculty, but also of the lifelong bonds resulting from their compassionate care,” she said. “This gift will create a hopeful future for our entire community and strengthen our land-grant mission of solving the world’s greatest challenges. On behalf of everyone at CSU, thank you for this remarkable investment in our future.”
Orthopedic Medicine and Mobility offers preventive and nonsurgical treatment options for animals experiencing lameness and disabilities related to arthritis, aging, amputations, neurologic issues, and athletic activities. The service helps owners rehabilitate pets to pre-injury health, maintain and improve quality of life, and support athletic performance. The service also conducts research and educates veterinary students around new treatments and rehabilitation techniques for dogs and cats.
Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery offers advanced care for animals with heart disease, including medical cardiology, interventional cardiology, and cardiac surgery – with a vision to offer solutions for all forms of heart disease in all species and to translate the newest advancements in human cardiology to the care of animals. The service has a national referral base, providing more than 270 direct consultations on complex cases to veterinary cardiologists across the U.S. and performing nearly 150 procedures on patients from 18 states in 2020.