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Meet the Commenters: MichiganJayHawk

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A sit down with RCT's favorite veterinarian

Thanks for joining us MichiganJayhawk. Now we all know that Wookies are closely related to dogs. In your professional veterinary opinion, what is the Wookie shedding scenario like on the Millennium Falcon? Is there hair everywhere or is Han Solo periodically grooming Chewie?

You are correct. Wookies are an offshoot of a herding dog called the Bergamasco. They look like this:

One of the best kept special effects secrets of the 'true' Star Wars Trilogy was Lucas' ability to green screen erase all the lint rollers placed around the Millennium Falcon. Another little known fact is that  Han's crusty bravado and 'I don't give a damn swagger' hides a closet clean freak. Not only did he upgrade the Millenium Falcon's HVAC system with Ultra Micron HEPA filtration to cut down on the flying Wookie hair & dander, but he also bathes/brushes Chewie daily to prevent the coughing up of cat sized fur balls that can really make a mess of the flight deck.

Going back to the early days of MichiganJayhawk, where did you grow up? What did your folks do? How big was your family?

I was born and raised in Lawrence just a stone's throw from Allen field house - on the same block as Lawrence High School. My dad taught German at KU for 40 years and my mom was a stay at home mom, taking care of 3 boys - more than a full time job.  It was a great place to grow up. Lawrence was a very different town in those days (70's & 80's) - much more sleepy college town than the bustling town it's become recently. I'm the youngest of 3 boys, making me the most outgoing and family clown. Whenever we got on my mom's nerves she'd kick us out the door and turn us loose on the neighborhood. At that time Lawrence High didn't have the huge sports complex they do now. There was a large open field and a cinder track in the middle of it. So in essence we grew up with one of the biggest yards in town. I always got a chuckle out of watching the marching band practice their routines when you'd all of a sudden see someone pull their foot back in horror, realizing they had just stepped in a nice pile of dog poop.

What kind of things where you into during your child/teen years? Sports, activities, interests?

I think we did the pretty standard kid activities in those days. We spent a lot of time outdoors. Riding bikes around town, shooting hoops in the front driveway, dropping firecrackers down the gaping cracks in the dry Kansas ground, swimming all day long at the now gone Holiday Park Pool. We were part of the Lawrence Aquahawks for years ... shudder years of early morning swim practice in an unheated pool - I'm still amazed I like the water today after those days of torture. I was very active in scouts (Troop 55) and finally made it to Eagle Scout my Senior year in High School. Many weekends were spent camping all over Kansas with scouts and my family. Still love camping, but it's hard to find the time while successfully running your own business.

I came across my first computer in 6th grade - and Apple II and was hooked. Shortly thereafter my brother bought an Ohio Scientific PC kit which I co-opted quickly and did some early basic programming. One of my first programs was a a stick figure shooting a basketball through a hoop - go figure. Once I could afford a Commodore 64 jumped right in and haven't been w/o a computer or video games since. I don't do any programming anymore, but understand just enough to be dangerous.

Growing up my parents had season tickets to all KU basketball games as faculty & had pretty good seats. I distinctly remember the guy that always sat behind us would scream "Ref you Stink!!" at every bad call. My mother was always irritated at him, while we boys thought it was great. As kids (well our parents) we were able to purchase us 'cub' tickets letting us into most games for some minimal cost like $20-25. The seats were up in the bleachers in the corners under the roof. So growing up I saw pretty much every home game KU had (except KSU/Misery) those weren't part of the package. Instead my brothers and I would  stay home and listen to Max Falkenstein on the radio, playing makeshift hoops in our rooms with a nerf ball and small rim above the door. Those games would get pretty heated with occasional tears from rejections to the face or body slam dunks gone awry. Our scout troop also worked the football games with a stand, so got to see most of those games too. As a teenager I sold Coke as one of the wandering vendors throughout Memorial stadium for extra pocket money. No idea how walking vendors make a living at that ... it's hard dirty work.

What made you pick KU?

Even though Crimson and Blue runs though my veins, I actually made the purposeful decision to not attend KU for school. Having grown up in Lawrence - being a 'townie' - definitely colored me against going to school at home. My dad had been Chairman of the German dept for about 10 years, steeping our family in the ugly side of KU politics. I didn't want to be know as So and So's son, but wanted to cut my own way. I did my undergrad work (BA in Biology) at the University of Chicago. I applied all over for vet school - even KSU where I did get a spot, but I just couldn't bring myself to attend the land of Purple Pussies no matter how good their Vet School was. One of the most enjoyable parts was signing the letter declining my spot in the KSU Vet school. I ended up going Michigan State for my DVM and haven't regretted it for one minute. Sad fact is that I have now lived in Michigan longer than I did in Lawrence. One of the best parts of rooting for our Jayhawks is, I can make fun of BOTH Michigan State and University of Michigan without an ounce of guilt.  I still think of Lawrence as my true home, even though we just sold our childhood home last year since my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and moved into a facility close to me. No idea when I'll be back, but I know my little one needs to experience The Phog at least once in her life.

When did you know you wanted to be a vet? What drew you to the field?

I've never wanted to be anything else. It might sound corny, but I really feel it's a calling for me. I grew up around animals of all sorts - dogs, birds, fish, turtles, gerbils, and snakes. I was always dragging home the sick and stray from around the neighborhood. I never could understand why my parents wouldn't let me keep them all. I've always empathized with animals and seem to be able to 'read' them well. I just really can't see myself doing anything else. Sure I thought about other jobs - Pediatrician, lawyer, carpentry, farming, QA for a gaming company, but it just wouldn't be fulfilling (more $$ maybe). One of my earliest memories is excitedly telling my mom that Veteran's park on 19th St was in honor of Vets - i.e. Veterinarians, and I so wanted to be a part of that. It took a while for her to stop laughing and explain the difference between War Vets and Animal Vets....

How and when did you find RCT?

I can't exactly remember how I found RCT, but I know it was around the time of the championship run. I don't think I started participating in game threads for a while - lurked for months if not more than a year. I was hungry to find anything KU hoops related - I'd been reading Rockchalk.com (now defunct), Oreadboomkings among others and somehow found RCT.

You have an active part in the worst part of owning a pet. How do you get through the mental part of putting pets down and seeing the grief of the owners?

Euthanasia is definitely one of the harder parts of my job, but I guess I see it as a blessing to be able to provide release to these animals in their time of suffering. You have to keep you distance to a degree or else the death (in any medical profession) will eat your soul. Some situations are harder than others - long time patients, juvenile patients w/ terminal illness, long time clients, etc. The other week I had a patient hospitalized for close to a week after surgery/biopsy when the diagnosis came back as aggressive intestinal lymphoma. It was a 5 year old Golden Retriever. That was a tough one, Owner bawling like a baby, bonding with the dog over a week, putting a young dog like that to sleep sucked.

There are euthanasias that I won't do - i.e. convenience euthanasias. Dog or cat has become too much of a bother (puking on new carpet, etc) where they don't want to try to figure out why, so it's easier for them to just put them down. I require exams before all my euthanasias so I can at least get an idea if it's legitimate.

You have told us about your daughter a few times on the site. I can't imagine how painful that must have been for you. Can you take us through what happened?

I'm always up for talking about Olivia. It tends to freak others out when childhood diseases/death comes up - we as a culture don't deal well with death in general.

TL&DR: In 2009 Olivia, our first daughter was diagnosed with a genetic condition called Alagille Syndrome. Neither of us are carriers of the mutation so Olivia got unlucky in her genetic rearrangement and developed some of the worst symptoms of this syndrome. 1) Multiple Heart defects 2) Liver Bile duct abnormalities 3) Poly-cystic Kidneys. We were graced with her presence for almost 6 months before she passed away due to complications of her syndrome. She should be in First grade this year....

Here's the unabridged version:

I also blogged about our journey here

What bothers me the most when I talk about her is the initial incompetence of her primary care givers to have a F***King clue that something was even wrong, but that's for another story.

The pregnancy was very uneventful. No problems, no complications, all tests/ultrasounds came back fine (according to the OB/GYN). When she was born 2 weeks early (so she was to term) - she was tiny Just over 5lbs. Everyone was surprised at this, but didn't think anything of it. In the 48 hours after her birth only one Dr commented that she had a heart murmur and requested an x-ray. Nothing abnormal, everything was fine. She was also quite jaundiced which did not improve significantly even after she left the hospital.

At her first pediatrician check up, nothing was said about the Jaundice besides it being normal in babies. He listened to her heart and didn't say anything about a murmur until we questioned him if he heard one. The Doctor listened again and said - "yep I hear one. Maybe we should get a cardiologist to see her next week." Being noob parents & exhausted we just trusted the professional. When we went to the cardiologist our true nightmare began.

The nurse checked Olivia's oxygenation with a pulse ox and kept moving the sensor from finger to finger. I couldn't see the readout but knew that this was not a good thing. She quickly left and had the Dr. come in. The Dr took one listen and said let's get n ultrasound of her heart today. Turns out her oxygen level never came up over 85%  (normal is 98-100%)  I watched the ultrasound tech work and saw those glances between the tech & nurse that didn't mean good things. I don't routinely do ultrasounds at work but remembered enough from school that I was seeing some bad things on the screen. The tech paged the Dr who quickly whisked us & Olivia across the hospital to the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit). She was diagnosed with Tetraolgy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia. She had 4 distinct defects in her heart (actually turns out to be 5 in her case) along with underdevelopment (atresia) of her pulmonary artery that brings blood to the heart to be oxygenated. She was transferred to U of M children's hospital and had open heart surgery by the next week. Just writing this reminds me of the roller coaster we were on back then. The night after open heart we stayed with her every minute. At one point we were escorted off because she crashed and they had to resuscitate her - those were the longest minutes of my life, waiting for someone - hopefully a nurse because seeing the doctor might have boded ill. Anyway she survived the night and did well through the rest of her stay.

We were dismissed from the hospital with a better outlook for the future, only to see the jaundice worsen and end up at U of M again within a month. She was then finally oficially diagnosed with a genetic syndrome/disease called Alagille Syndrome. People (kids) with Alagille syndrome most commonly have Teralogy of Fallot (or similar heart disease), Liver disease (faulty Bile ducts) and often Kidney Disease (Underdeveloped/cystic Kidneys). Olivia had all three stemming from 1 single pinpoint DNA mutation. Still boggles my mind that in genetic typo early in her development from fertilized egg to morula/blastula stage doomed her to this fate.

After her official diagnosis she was put on special formula and food to help reduce the jaundice and up her calorie intake. She did very well over the next months. Her kidneys grew, improved in function. She was a happy girl. She went every where with us. Her time in the hospital made her very observant if not wary of people. Any new person she'd meet, she'd look right in the eye and stare them down. She had enough experience with Doctors and nurses poking her that she wasn't about to give anyone a free pass.

I will never ever forget Sunday August 16th, 2009.  I fed Olivia her early morning meal (about 2-3 am) and settled her back into her crib. I returned to our bedroom and fell fast asleep. At about 9am  I woke with a start. Light was streaming into the bedroom and I hadn't heard Olivia cry for her normal morning feeding at about 6am. My gut tightened, walking quickly to Olivia's room I opened the door and just knew..... The look on her face, though lifeless, was content and peaceful.  The autopsy was inconclusive, but did not support SIDS. When we 'debriefed' with her cardiologist weeks later, she speculated that it was most likely a heart arrhythmia that she couldn't recover from on her own. I'm going to assume it wasn't painful or long, otherwise I just couldn't deal. I put together a  memorial video for her here.

In 2010 we were lucky enough to be graced with a beautiful healthy daughter Amelia, who will soon be turning 5.

I have a dragonfly tattoo on my left shoulder blade in memory of Olivia the significance of the dragonflies is discussed here

What has been your biggest success and biggest regret?

Success: Owning my own Veterinary Clinic and being my own boss.

Failure: Not being in my daughter's room when she passed away.

If I came to visit you, where would we go and what would we do?

Battle Creek, MI itself tends not to be much of a destination in and of itself. Without Kellogg's Corporate Headquarters & multiple car part manufacturers we'd be a true backwater along I-94. I'd take people to Fort Custer Recreation area for some great hiking, horseback riding or mountain biking. It's an old military fort from WW I & II that's been mainly decommissioned and turned into a State Park Rec Site. For food we'd go to a little local Taqueria called Nina's - makes some killer Burritos & Chimichangas. For entertainment we'd probably go catch a show at The Barn Theatre, one of the longest running, family run Theatrical Stages in the US. Drinks at Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo to cap of a good day.

Anything else we might not know about you.

I met my wife at work, she's a vet tech.. I joke that she came with the Practice when I bought it back in 1998 (she was already working there). For some reason she never thinks that's funny, go figure. We obviously share a passion for animals. Besides running our veterinary clinic we founded a non-profit (501c3) sanctuary for cats with FeLV (Feline Leukemia) and/or FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) called Froggie's Pond (froggiespond.org). We're currently providing care for over 50 cats run completely on donations & volunteer time. We just broke ground on a stand alone facility for our sanctuary cats, hopefully it will be finished by late fall.

Lightning Round

Age

46

Height
6'1"

Where do you live

Battle Creek, Michigan

Facial hair

Nope

Any pets

lol  Nothing Lighting about this - 2 dogs, too many cats, 1 horse, 3 tortoises, 2 parakeets, 1 hamster, 18 chickens, couple tanks of fish.

What kind of car do you drive

1988 GMC Sieraa & 2005 Porsche Cayenne

Corrective lenses

Yes

Hair style

Thinning

Favorite movie

The Shawshank Redemption

Favorite tv show

Game of Thrones

Favorite beer or thing to drink

Woodchuck Cider

Favorite band

Counting Crows & REM (1980's version)

Favorite food

Pizza or Mexican

Favorite non KU team

Royals


All time favorite KU player

Darnell Valentine

First concert

The Replacements @ The Riviera Chicago 1987

First w-2 job

TCBY  in the Malls (now Westlake Ace Shopping Center)

Best athlete seen play live

Paul Pierce

Favorite dinosaur when you were a kid

Brontosaurus