Gifts in Action

Your Gifts Tell the Story

Behind every gift to WSU's College of Veterinary Medicine is a story. The detection of a new disease helps save lives. A scholarship makes school more affordable. A beloved animal's life is saved from cancer. From everyone at the college, you have our sincere gratitude for your generous support.

  • An MRI Helps Solve a Dog’s Medical Mystery

    Story by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ’04 | Photos by Lauren Grabelle

    Sugar standing in a field of snow
    Sugar celebrating her twelfth birthday, a year and a half after her recovery, with a walk on Flathead Lake, Montana.

    Shortly after returning from a business trip in the fall of 2015, Lauren Grabelle found her dog, “Sugar,” dragging herself across the floor. Her hind limbs were lifeless. Lauren became alarmed.

    A few months earlier, she had noticed Sugar, an athletic and high energy Weimaraner, had been acting strangely. She would dip her head in her food bowl, but then lift it back up to eat. Kibble dropped all over the floor. Sugar, who would normally have gobbled up any fallen food, wouldn’t lower her head to eat it.

    “I decided to give her some chicken on a plate and put it on the floor,” says Lauren. “She didn’t eat it. But when I picked up the plate and held it to her mouth, she wolfed it down. That was the connection for me that she couldn’t bend over to get it.”

    In August of that year, she had taken Sugar to a local veterinarian who took x-rays (radiographs), and diagnosed Sugar with bone spurs in her elbow and spondylosis, a degenerative condition often associated with age that causes bone spurs along the spinal column. For Lauren, the symptoms of stiffness and pain seemed to match the diagnosis. And because Sugar was 10 ½ years old, Lauren thought it might explain her behavior.

    Sugar was put on medication, but according to Lauren, it didn’t seem to make much difference. “She couldn’t get up on my bed anymore,” she says. “And she would pace at night because she couldn’t get comfortable.”

    But by early September, Sugar was even worse. She had climbed up on a chair in Lauren’s bedroom—one she knew she wasn’t allowed to be on. Normally, as soon as she would hear Lauren coming, Sugar would have jumped down. This time she just laid there and stared at Lauren. “She didn’t get down because she was in pain,” she says.

    She decided to take Sugar to another veterinarian who also diagnosed her with arthritis after reviewing the same x-rays. Although the condition is degenerative, the veterinarian assured Lauren they would have many more active months together before the disease slowed her down. Two days later Sugar’s back limbs were paralyzed. To Lauren, nothing seemed to make sense. Sugar was getting worse, not better. “She was dragging herself around,” she says. “I worried that she was suffering.”

    Lauren called a mobile veterinarian, expecting she would have to put Sugar down. “Thank goodness no one called me back,” she says.

    Lauren spent the weekend after her business trip crying and trying to decide what to do. She carried Sugar outside to go to the bathroom, and she bought diapers for when she couldn’t get Sugar outside. “Having a 50-pound dog that can’t walk is so hard,” she says. “I was tired and exhausted.”

    Sugar and two technicians at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital
    Sugar with veterinary students starting her examination.

    Over that weekend, Lauren remembered another veterinarian she had known in the community. She took Sugar first thing Monday morning, but she was told that the veterinarian was off that day. Lauren was distraught. The clinic staff called Dr. Barbara Calm at home and she came in on her day off. Dr. Calm took new radiographs and did blood work on Sugar. “She also told me about the WSU veterinary hospital when I brought Sugar in,” she says. “But I expected she would need back surgery and I didn’t think I could afford it.”

    One week later, Lauren was sitting in the parking lot of a big box retail store getting ready to buy more puppy pads and diapers for Sugar when Dr. Calm called. Based on the test, Dr. Calm said she wasn’t sure what was wrong with Sugar and hoped that Lauren would reconsider going to Pullman.

    “I hung up, looked at Sugar in the rearview mirror, and called the WSU neurology unit,” she says. “At first, they told me they didn’t have any open appointments for two weeks, but said they would talk to the doctors. I got a call back within hours and they wanted to see Sugar the very next day.”

    Without any time to think about it, Lauren packed a bag and made the six-hour trip to Pullman from western Montana. “I couldn’t put my dog down until I knew why I was putting her down,” she says. “Finding answers would put my mind at ease. I wasn’t afraid of a little debt to find out what was wrong.”

    At WSU, neurology resident Dr. Tom Jukier, examined Sugar and ordered an MRI. “The best test for spinal cord conditions is an MRI,” says Dr. Jukier. In Sugar’s case, the disease was advanced enough that the x-rays, or radiographs, were difficult to interpret. “We took radiographs, but because she had degenerative changes to her spine, it made it difficult to interpret if it was inflammation or something more benign like arthritis from the radiographs alone.”

    The MRI results: Discospondylitis, an infection of the spinal discs most often caused by bacteria. For Sugar, it also affected her spinal cord.

    MRI allows veterinarians to see things they sometimes can’t with an x-ray alone. “It is vastly superior for earlier detection, so we can treat sooner,” says Jukier. Dr. Jukier prescribed antibiotics, and Sugar started feeling better within days.

    “I never expected what happened,” says Lauren. “Two days later she was standing.”

    Sugar stayed on the antibiotics for about nine months. Today, at 12 years old, Sugar is hiking and doing the outdoor activity she loves. Lauren keeps a close eye on her to make sure the infection doesn’t return, but she also knows that as Sugar is aging symptoms of arthritis can mimic infection. “I’m always watching for it,” she says.

    “Lauren put in a lot of dedication to help Sugar,” says Jukier.” If it wasn’t for her dedication, we wouldn’t have had such a good outcome.”

    Lauren and Sugar in the snow
    Artist and Muse.

    Lauren, a professional photographer, chronicled Sugar’s illness and time at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Her work will be featured in the WSU Animal Health Library beginning September 7 through January 2018. An opening reception will be held from 4:00 – 6:00, Thursday, September 7.



  • Training our Students for Success

    Story by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ’04 | Photo by Henry Moore Jr.

    Keesha Matz with Dr. Alan Goodman
    Keesha Matz with Dr. Alan Goodman.

    Keesha Matz wants to understand some of the world’s deadliest viruses. Raised in Chehalis, Washington, her love for microbiology began in a molecular genetics high school class taught by WSU alumnus Henri Weeks.

    “The class gave me a real feel for research, which I think is unique for a high school class,” says Matz.

    That experience inspired her to apply to the WSU School of Molecular Bioscience’s STARS program. Students Targeted toward Advanced Research Studies, or STARS, accelerates learning and provides hands-on research experience. “They help you get into a research lab right away,” she says. For Matz, it meant that she could spend the summers after her freshman and sophomore years conducting research instead of going back home to get a job.

    Her first experience in a research lab was with Dr. Hector Aguilar-Carreño in the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health who studies the Nipah virus. First discovered in 1999 in Malaysia and Singapore, the deadly virus was the subject of the 2011 film, Contagion, starring Gwyneth Paltrow. In Aguilar-Carreño’s lab, she studied how proteins of the virus can spread the disease throughout the body. She also studied Lyme disease with Dr. Troy Bankhead, who has a joint appointment in the Allen School and the Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology department. She is currently conducting research on the Nipah virus with Dr. Alan Goodman in the School of Molecular Biosciences.

    “I am able to directly apply what I learned in Dr. Aguilar-Carreño’s lab in Dr. Goodman’s lab,” she says.

    In Goodman’s lab, rather than trying to understand how the virus spreads throughout the body, they want to know how the virus can evade the body’s innate immune response. When a virus enters the body, the immune system typically responds to the foreign invader. But with the Nipah virus, certain proteins signal the body to decrease its immune response.

    “Keesha is not afraid to take on new, large-scale, challenging experiments,” says Goodman. “She carefully plans every step beforehand to make sure that the experiments are carried out properly and that she can perform them independently.”

    This summer as an undergraduate research fellow at Mayo Clinic, Matz will study a protein of the Ebola virus that also evades the antiviral response at the cellular level, similar to the work she had done at WSU.

    For Matz, the support she has received at WSU to pursue research opportunities and apply for scholarships has made a difference in her academic success. She is 1 of only 240 students nationwide to receive the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships for 2017–18. She also received two scholarships through the School of Molecular Biosciences—the Alice Lloyd Diers and William E. Diers Microbiology Student Endowment Scholarship in 2016 and the Walter L. & Pauline W. Harris Microbiology Endowment Scholarship in 2017.

    “It was a huge honor to be awarded a national scholarship,” says Matz, who has maintained nearly a 4.0 GPA while working in the research labs. “Being selected for these scholarships has allowed me to focus more on academics and research and take advantage of other opportunities. It feels like a big pat on the back.”

    Matz will graduate in the spring of 2018 with a bachelor of science degree in microbiology. From there she plans to go to graduate school. Berkeley, Mayo Clinic, and Cornell are places she is considering applying to, but the dream is Stanford. “You have to try,” she says.

    Thinking about the future, Matz would eventually like to work in government lab or private industry conducting medical research that can be used to design treatments for infectious diseases, like Nipah. “I would like to be in an organization that works globally, such as the World Health Organization,” she says. She also wants to support the university that has given her so much.

    “In the future, I definitely want to give back, because I know how much it means to students,” she says. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the mentoring I’ve had at WSU.”