At first, Shawn Polukord thought Blaine had kennel cough.
The eight-year-old Labradoodle had started coughing at night and, unfortunately, he was getting worse. Concerned, Polukord took him to a local veterinarian who noticed that, in addition to the cough, Blaine had an irregular heartbeat that sounded like “tennis shoes in a dryer.”
Blaine was referred to Mount Laurel Animal Hospital in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, which has served the South Jersey community since 1976. Founded by Penn Vet graduate Dr. Edward Sleeper, V’73, the practice was purchased in 2013 by Dr. Robert Mankowski, V’04, and Dr. Christopher Torre, V’12.
Last fall, Mount Laurel Animal Hospital was designated the first Penn Vet Affiliate member. Under this new Affiliates Program, Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital is establishing a network of veterinary practices to expand access to Penn Vet specialists and clinical trials. This can mean greater convenience—and less commuting—during stressful medical situations.
“The primary goal of the Penn Vet Affiliates Program is to bring Penn Vet's world-class veterinary services much closer to our clients’ homes,” explained Bo Connell, Executive Director of Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital in Philadelphia. “We recognize that it can be difficult to get into the city for the veterinary medical services your pets need, so we have identified practices throughout the community with whom we can partner to provide these services.”
As Mankowski added, “We have over 40 local general practices that refer to our emergency hospital. We’re proud to now offer them Penn Vet resources.”
Cardiology Closer to Home
Dr. Marc Kraus, DVM, joined Penn Vet’s Cardiology team last October and also serves as Ryan Hospital’s Outpatient Medical Director. He is working with Connell to develop the Penn Vet Affiliates Program and spends a full day each week seeing patients onsite at Mount Laurel Animal Hospital.
One of those patients was Blaine, who Kraus diagnosed in March with advanced chronic valve disease and an abnormal heart rhythm—atrial fibrillation, as the “tennis shoes” sound is known to signal. In addition to coughing, Blaine was lethargic and had a decreased appetite, Kraus said.
“I did an ultrasound, looking at the structure and function of his heart. Radiographs showing the size of the heart confirmed there was congestive heart failure and fluid within the lungs, and an electrocardiogram confirmed atrial fibrillation,” Kraus explained.
“Dr. Kraus did a thorough workup like you’d do on a person. He explained everything, and I was amazed with the level of care,” said Polukord. He was also impressed by the level of service, coupled with the convenience of having Penn Vet specialty care in his backyard. “Mount Laurel Animal Hospital gave me an open view of Dr. Kraus’ calendar,” he said, which facilitated booking appointments closer to home. The practice even helped him shop around to find the best pricing for Blaine’s prescriptions.
Blaine’s treatment involves a daily regimen of pills that help manage his heart rate and pumping ability, as well as a diuretic to reduce the pressure inside the heart and prevent fluid build-up in the lungs. In addition, Polukord and his wife monitor the dog’s breathing rate while asleep or resting. (Fortunately, there’s an app for that.)
A week after his initial trip to the hospital, Blaine returned for a follow-up appointment in a much healthier state. “He had a great appetite and his activity had returned to normal,” Kraus said. The dog’s heart rate, which was up to 220 beats per minute during his first visit to the exam room, had decreased to 160.
According to Polukord, Blaine is back to his usual, spunky self. “You’d never even know he’d been sick,” he said.
Connecting Penn Vet with the Community
Mount Laurel Animal Hospital is a cutting-edge, 7,800-square-foot facility, nestled on a 16-acre farm with Texas Longhorn cattle, alpaca, emu, pigs, and chickens. In addition to offering top-notch veterinary care, the hospital focuses on community service and education—hosting more than 50 class trips annually.
“This year, the practice celebrated its 40th anniversary in the community,” said Mankowski, who worked at the practice for nearly a decade before becoming a co-owner. “Many of our clients have been with us for 20 or 30 years. They are very proud of our hospital, and they are proud that we have become an Affiliate of Penn Vet.”
Over half of Mount Laurel Animal Hospital’s 25 veterinarians are VMDs (graduates of Penn Vet), including Mankowski and Torre, who have maintained strong ties to the School. They saw the Affiliates Program as a way to complement their practice’s specialty services, starting with cardiology and oncology.
Torre said the program echoes a trend in human medicine, with large city hospitals opening suburban satellite offices. “I think it’s really cool that we’re trying to extrapolate that into veterinary work,” he said.
Some advanced diagnostics and procedures may still require a trip to Ryan Hospital, and Mount Laurel Animal Hospital provides transportation for pets and their owners to get there.
Kraus emphasized the continuity of care and treatment. “My records from Mount Laurel are also at Penn Vet so the rest of my team can see them. It’s not just me. It’s a service-wide initiative within the School once a practice becomes a Penn Vet Affiliate, and there’s continuity at both places.”
A patient seen at an Affiliate practice also has a “fast-track” into the Penn Vet system, Kraus added. “On multiple levels they have access to our specialists, access to clinical trials, and access to our lab, MRI, and advanced diagnostic tools,” he said.
A Growing Footprint
“Penn Vet would like to see a number of Affiliated practices throughout the region by the end of the year,” Connell said. “We are constantly striving to make veterinary medicine more convenient, more accessible, and more affordable, and to provide our services in a manner that meets our clients’ needs.”
The Affiliates Program is already having an impact on the lives of pets like Blaine, as well as their owners.
“At the end of the day, you want your dog or any member of your family to be as happy and healthy as they can be. And Blaine is a member of the family,” Polukord said.