Story by Amy Geiszler-Jones Photography by Madison Ham
It had been a quiet weekday morning in a Wichita hospital’s intensive care unit – that is until one of the patients started barking for attention. Next door, one patient was undergoing a plasma transfusion for an inflamed pancreas, while another was recovering from injuries caused by a car.
When Wichita area pet owners need emergency or specialized medical care for their pets, they tend to find it at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital of Wichita. The hospital, located at 727 S. Washington, has more than 50 employees, including 12 veterinarians.
“It takes a lot of people to run a facility 24/7, 365 days a year,” said Dr. Brock Lofgreen, the hospital’s director and owner.
The hospital can care for up to about 30 patients. On this particular weekday morning, there were 10, with several of the patients having been hospitalized for ingesting substances, including tea tree oil, Xanax medication and xylitol sweetener, that are toxic to dogs. One dog was labeled as a “Good Sam” case; he’d been brought in by a good Samaritan passerby after he was struck by a car. With no ID, he was being cared for until he could be transferred to Wichita’s animal control shelter.
Along with emergency care, specialty services include ophthalmology, radiology, surgery and a board-certified dentist and oral surgeon. Just as with the human medical field, board certification indicates the doctor has undergone additional intensive training – an internship and post-veterinary school residency.
The hospital’s sophisticated imaging services include digital dental radiography that helps better diagnose dental issues and the area’s only CT scan for pets. The hospital also provides physical therapy and rehabilitation services.
Besides an ICU and treatment/recovery wards, the hospital also includes a ward for infectious diseases, an operating room and a triage room to diagnose pets brought in for emergencies.
In the ER, Lofgreen explained, many of the cases include animals hit by a vehicle, injured in dog fights, suffering acute illnesses like vomiting or toxicity, or having difficulty delivering. There can be fractures, knee injuries or the ingestion of something that won’t digest.
“It’s something different everyday,” he said, “but it’s a huge opportunity to help someone when their pet is in an emergency. The downside in emergency medicine is that we can’t save everyone because sometimes the injuries are so severe. But the upside is when you can pull an animal through and see the appreciation and that relationship between owners and animals.”
Lofgreen hadn’t planned on a career treating pets or being in emergency medicine. While he’d grown up on a farm near Norton, Kansas, he went off to Kansas State University, initially planning to pursue a degree in the health professions. During college, he decided to follow the footsteps of his uncle who owns a veterinary practice.
Lofgreen’s now in his 20th year at the Wichita hospital, which was created in 1978 by area vets who joined together to offer emergency care while maintaining their practices. The doctors took turns staffing the facility. Lofgreen, who joined the practice in 1997, became the hospital’s director in 2002; in 2008 he purchased the practice from the remaining shareholders.
With the growth of the business, Lofgreen is planning to build a new full-service hospital near Sedgwick County Zoo. The 12,500-square-foot building, scheduled to open in 2018, will nearly triple the space the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital of Wichita currently occupies and will allow for even more specialized services to be offered. The new facility will allow the hospital to double the number of exam rooms to eight, double the patient capacity and add two operating rooms.
Besides providing emergency and specialized care to pets, the practice is also involved in other endeavors. Four times a year, it organizes continuing education seminars for area veterinarians and their staff; average attendance is about 100.
A few years ago, it joined with the national Veterinary Care Foundation to create its Paw it Forward Foundation, a nonprofit that provides financial help for good Samaritan cases, for pet owners in financial crisis and for pets harmed or displaced due to local disasters. Funds are raised through events such as give-back nights at area restaurants that donate a portion of sales to the foundation and Bark in the Park, held in April during a Wichita State baseball game, and through private donations that are 100 percent tax deductible.