The Living Legends among us

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A walk with the dogs. Photo: JH.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024. Yesterday was another gorgeous and sunny, warm day in New York with temps in the low 80s, with more predicted for today. The weatherman expects more of the same until Friday when there might be some precipitation in store with temps dropping to the high 70s with partly cloudy skies and even some rain by the weekend. We shall see.

Meanwhile over here at NYSD, no matter the weather, this has been a particularly busy Spring Season. And we are naturally catching up with the end of this very busy season.

AMC President and CEO Helen Irving addressing guests at the Schwarzman Animal Medical Center’s 16th Annual Living Legends Luncheon.

However, among the annuals, the Schwarzman Animal Medical Center — the world’s largest veterinary teaching hospital; and also a Level 1 Veterinary Trauma Center — hosted its 16th annual Living Legends.

The thing about these animal-care fundraisers is they are attended by those of us who possess or have possessed these creatures as pets.

The affection they inspire is life saving for many of us. Many have had these caring and emotional relationships with their pets all their lives, and so they know the value. The emotional reward is as profound as what one often feels about off-spring as well as family members.

I have had cats and dogs all my life, in varying numbers of course. All adopted from animal care centers. For example, a number of years ago when I moved from the East Coast to Los Angeles, I took a dog (Rex) and five cats with me.

There were more than 100 guests at the luncheon and it’s a good bet that the majority were or are owners (residing partners) of mainly dogs and cats — although some of the “wild” breeds have taken up residence with us.

Animal lives are usually shorter than human lives, and so after fifteen years there, when I returned to New York, I was accompanied by three dogs (a Jack Russell and two Shih Tzus), all of whom eventually left for Dog Heaven, and currently am in residence with three adopted dogs (all mixes with Shih Tzu strains — but mutts). They are my family, their presence evoking and provoking care and companionship as if they were (sort of are) my children. They all know how we “feel” (about ourselves) and they care. (Very important presence.)

Board Co-Chair Bobby Liberman with Trustee Laura Garner; Trustee Elaine Langone and Board Co-Chair Nicole Seligman.
L. to r.: Board Co-Chair Bobby Liberman with Trustee Laura Garner; Trustee Elaine Langone and Board Co-Chair Nicole Seligman.
Pamela Butler, Executive Director of Development, with Trustee Ann Tisch.
Pamela Butler, Executive Director of Development, with Trustee Ann Tisch.
Kane and Martin Nussbaum with Dr. Ann Hohenhaus
Kane and Martin Nussbaum with Dr. Ann Hohenhaus.

Each year, the Living Legends honorees are some of its most remarkable stories. Also many of their cases (a/k/a patients) are the results of wildlife conservation efforts. They come to the AMC through its partnership with local zoos, plus they rescue animals who would otherwise not have a chance for survival; and beloved individual pets who’ve recovered from life-threatening illnesses.

All proceeds from the Living Legends Luncheon support AMC’s mission to provide compassionate and collaborative care. The results as well can also lead to the advancement of veterinary medicine through innovative clinical research and education.

The Schwarzman Animal Medical Center is currently undergoing a $125 million transformational expansion with the recent opening of the state-of-the-art Denise and Michael Kellen Institute for Surgical Care in January 2024. And later this year, the Animal Medical Center will see the opening of the newly expanded Emergency Room, Intensive Care Unit and Medical-Surgical Unit, with expected project completion in 2025.

The center of the luncheon, after our first (and only) course except the dessert, was around three of the “honorees” who were brought up to the podium (individually) — all of whom had experienced major infections that could have been fatal and were saved and returned to their natural activity and care via the medical staffs of the Animal Medical Center. Aside from the pleasure and amusement their current presence provided to the guests, their survival was heart warming and a reminder of the possibilities available, thanks to human care.

Trustees Donna Acquavella and Emilia Saint-Amand Krimendahl; Trustees Bernadette Peters and Lisa Schiff.
L. to r.: Trustees Donna Acquavella and Emilia Saint-Amand Krimendahl; Trustees Bernadette Peters and Lisa Schiff.
JOY_4849 Bobby Liberman_Board Co-Chair and Sherry Koplin_Truste
Bobby Liberman and Trustee Sherry Koplin.
Gail Gilbert, Emilia Saint-Amand Krimendahl, Bobby Liberman, and Donna Acquavella.
Gail Gilbert, Emilia Saint-Amand Krimendahl, Bobby Liberman, and Donna Acquavella.

The year’s four Living Legends awards went to Professor Pantalones, a great hornbill from the Bronx Zoo, treated by Daniel Spector, DVM, DACVS-SA, Director of Zoological Relations and Specialist in Surgery; a rescue cat named Wednesday, treated by Django Martel, DVM, DAVDC, a Specialist in Dentistry; Mingming, a Shih Tzu who was treated by Mariel Covo, VMD, Resident Veterinarian in Internal Medicine; and Tammi Terrell, a Wire Fox Terrier treated by Douglas Palma, DVM, DACVIM (SAIM), Department Head of Internal Medicine and Dr. Richa Dheendsa, DVM, Resident Veterinarian in Internal Medicine.

The Living Legends Event co-chairs include Donna Acquavella, Tina Pendergrast Santi Flaherty, Laura Garner, Michael Heaner, Nancy Kissinger, Sharon Amsterdam Koplin, Emilia Saint-Amand Krimendahl, Elaine Langone, Bobby Liberman, Marianne Mebane, Kane Nussbaum, Kathy Rayner, Elizabeth Gore Ross, Nicole Seligman, Ann Tisch, and Janet York.

Trustee Emilia Fanjul and Gail Gilbert.
Trustee Emilia Fanjul and Gail Gilbert.
Emilia Saint-Amand Krimendahl and David Patrick Columbia.

Professor Pantalones underwent groundbreaking surgeries to affix a custom, 3D-printed prosthetic casque. The casque, a distinctive concave protrusion above the beak, plays an important role in social structure and behavior, as well as in sound magnification.

Professor Pantalones!

When Professor Pantalones started to develop early changes to his beak, the Bronx Zoo staff brought him to AMC for a CT scan, which showed an abnormal area that was likely cancerous or precancerous. AMC’s Dr. Daniel Spector, in collaboration with his AMC and Bronx Zoo colleagues, decided to remove the tumor to enhance his quality of life.

The team at AMC performed a CT scan, obtained CT-guided biopsies, and created a custom prosthesis and surgical cutting guide to assist Dr. Spector in the surgery, with assistance from colleagues at the University of South Florida and Northwell Health. In total, Professor Pantalones underwent three surgeries (one at AMC and two at the Bronx Zoo) to remove the tumor and affix the 3D-printed prothesis. He is now disease free and back at the Bronx Zoo living happily with his new casque.

Wednesday was found on the street by AdvoCat Rescue having suffered an unknown trauma.

Her jaw had been broken and healed in such a way that the jawbone fused to her cheekbone, preventing her from opening her mouth. AdvoCat Rescue found a foster home for Wednesday, where she was able to get enough nutrition by lapping up bits of food with her tongue. AdvoCat applied for and received a grant from the Emma and Georgina Bloomberg AMC to the Rescue Fund to cover the cost of oral surgery.

One of many charitable funds at AMC, AMC to the Rescue subsidizes specialty care to rescue animals whose health is an obstacle to their adoption. Dr. Django Martel operated successfully, surgically detaching the fused bone and allowing Wednesday to open and close her mouth normally. She is now happily enjoying life in her forever home.

Dr. Django Martel with Wednesdays family and Helen Irving, President and CEO.
Dr. Django Martel and Helen Irving with Wednesday’s family.

Mingming first came to AMC with an ulcerated intestinal mass that was causing her to be anemic. After initial hope that a series of blood transfusions could stabilize her for surgery, AMC clinicians realized her blood was incompatible with the blood on hand at AMC.

Dr. Mariel Covo suspected that Mingming might have a rare blood type called “Dal-negative,” which turned out to be the case, but she needed surgery to remove the bleeding intestinal mass. Despite not having any compatible blood available, Mingming’s owner elected to go ahead with the delicate surgery to remove the cancerous tumor.

The surgery was successful, but just a few months later, Mingming developed an autoimmune condition called IMHA, which caused her to become anemic and sick again. Fortunately, she did not need another blood transfusion and responded well to immunosuppressive therapy. Now, over two years later, Mingming is thriving and has not had a recurrence of her cancer or IMHA.

Helen Irving_President and CEO_Dr. Mariel Covo_Lily Li and Mingming
Helen Irving, Dr. Mariel Covo, and Lily Li with Mingming.

A few years ago Tammi Terrell developed an autoimmune condition called IMHA and eventually went into remission. However, in January 2024, she collapsed and returned to AMC. She was hospitalized for 25 days with a condition called PIMA and needed an emergency splenectomy.

The surgery was overseen by Dr. Douglas Palma and performed with amazing speed – it took only 11 minutes to remove Tammi Terrell’s spleen – which was particularly important since Tammi Terrell’s condition left her with a dangerously low red blood cell count, and she has the very rare Dal-negative blood type, like Mingming, that made her a poor candidate for a transfusion.

JOY_4795 Dr. Douglas Palma-Bobby Melnick-Dr. Richa Dheendsa with Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye
Dr. Douglas Palma, Bobby Melnick, and Dr. Richa Dheendsa with Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye.
Crow, a blood donor.
Crow, a blood donor.

Although Tammi Terrell was discharged days later, she soon returned with a urinary tract infection, which spread to all her major organs. In need of blood donors, that’s when Mingming came to the rescue. With Mingming’s owner eager to help another dog in need, and despite the risk to Mingming’s own health, she was able to donate a small, but vital, amount of compatible blood, which kept Tammi Terrell alive until more donors could be found. Three blood transfusions over three days sustained Tammi Terrell, while the IM team worked tirelessly to bring her infections under control and return her to good health.

Mingming and her fan club.
Mingming and her fan club.

Photographs by Joy Glenn

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