A very lucky boy: Westley beats the tumor that covered half his brain

This is a good news-bad news story. (Don’t worry, it has a happy ending.)

Bad news: Five-year-old golden retriever Westley was surrendered by his owners.

Good news: He was rescued by a group in Alaska.

Bad news: Not long after he was rescued, he began having seizures and was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Susan Sampson from Alaska Golden Retriever Rescue, and a veterinary technician at Aurora Animal Clinic in Fairbanks, took Westley to Dr. Molly Yazwinski, who initially examined him and referred him to Dr. Chris Thomson, associate professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (UAF). She performed the neurological examination and localized the lesion. Dr. Nina Hansen of UAF, and Dr. Kelli Kramer from Perryville (Ill.) Vet Clinic were also part of his care team. “Dr. Carl Murphy performed the MRI scans from which we diagnosed the tumor, and I then contacted the CSU neurology team. Jed came up to UAF to take Westley to CSU,” said Thomson.

Good news: Westley’s foster mom is a friend of CSU veterinary student Jed Bickford-Harding. “He was staying with one of my closest friends that I worked with at Aurora Animal Clinic in Fairbanks,” Bickford-Harding said. “She got ahold of me and said that he needed to come to CSU.”

Bickford-Harding, a student in the UAF/CSU Collaborative Veterinary Program, flew up to Fairbanks to collect Westley and brought him to the CSU James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where neurologists, oncologists and surgeons collaborated on how best to remove the tumor that had engulfed about half of his brain.

“We have lots of different departments at our disposal. We’ve had, from the beginning, the oncology service involved, and then radiation oncology,” said neurology resident Dr. Amy Stark, who worked with Dr. Lisa Bartner, veterinary neurosurgeon, on Westley’s case.

After conferring with multiple teams, the neurologists chose a surgical approach. “We thought surgery ultimately would probably give him the greatest chance at having a good quality of life,” Bartner said. The surgeons needed to know exactly what was going on inside Westley’s head.

“Part of the goal of surgery was to better understand what tumor we were dealing with,” said veterinary neurosurgeon Dr. Stephanie McGrath, who performed the operation. “We had to remove the tumor from fairly deep within the brain, and so it was really a challenging surgery, but overall, it went very, very well.” After the surgery, Westley got six doses of radiation therapy to shrink the remaining tumor.

Good news (not just for Westley): “These types of cases are very educational for students. It really shows them what we can do with veterinary medicine,” Bartner said.

Then-veterinary student Alex Gomes happened to be on the neuro service when Westley’s case came up. “Neurology rounds have been amazing,” said Gomes, who graduated with his doctor of veterinary medicine in May of 2018. “I’ve never been involved with a brain surgery before, and being able to work with Westley here in the OR, as well as outside of the OR, has been amazing.”

Westley is giving back, too. Thomson presented his case as part of an international training course for veterinary neurologists in Bologna, Italy, this summer.

More good news: Holly’s Fund donors made Westley’s surgery possible, and he now has a benefactor who “has stepped up to provide him with the medical boarding that he needs, so he’ll stay close to the hospital, and he’ll be in the best possible place for him.”