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Partners in healing: Donors support the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine

March 27, 2017

Kathy Apffel and Nick Dervisis
Clockwise from the top left, veterinary technician Stefanie Olsen and oncology resident Erin Fagan watch as Nick Dervisis, assistant professor of oncology, examines Seth, a German shorthaired pointer owned by Kathy Apffel, of Pinehurst, North Carolina.

Experienced faculty, staff, and dedicated students at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech have been saving lives for almost 30 years by providing the highest standard of veterinary care to animal patients at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

But they haven’t been doing it alone.

The generosity of the hospital’s grateful clients has provided critical support to fund facility improvements, groundbreaking clinical research, and state-of-the-art equipment, allowing the college to expand knowledge and deliver innovative treatments that improve animal lives.

“Every client and animal patient that walks through the hospital doors benefits from the philanthropy of former and current clients and their shared passion for the hospital’s work,” said Terry Swecker, hospital director. “As an alum of the first graduating class at the college and a faculty member since 1990, I have seen first-hand the transformative impact that gifts from clients and friends have had on our ability to treat the most challenging cases and apply knowledge from research to develop new therapies and treatments that help us save more lives and advance veterinary education.”

One area where the hospital has benefited the most from philanthropic support is canine oncology services and care. 

Nick Dervisis, assistant professor of oncology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, has helped build a successful oncology service at the teaching hospital that offers state-of-the-art services for cancer patients and opportunities to participate in clinical research. The service investigates spontaneously occurring tumors in dogs and cats with similarities to those in humans.

“Philanthropy in support of cancer research represents one of the greatest investments the public can make,” said Dervisis, who received the college’s 2016 Zoetis Award for Research Excellence. “This is the opportunity for the public not only to support cancer research, but also to significantly guide and influence the direction of such research.”

Long-time supporters

Kathy and Emmett Apffel, of Pinehurst, North Carolina, are part of a community of donors who have supported the veterinary college’s teaching, research, and clinical missions after an experience with canine cancer.

They first became clients of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital on Memorial Day weekend in 1994. Their German shorthaired pointer, Nick, had a bleeding ulcer. 

“The day we walked through that door, they took care of us,” Kathy Apffel said. “They called us every morning, every night.” 

The Apffels recall Nick being brought through the hallways so they could shower him with love. As he walked back and forth to see them, they could tell that Nick trusted the veterinarians. He survived and lived three more years to be 15 years old. 

Unfortunately, Nick was not the only dog they would own with an illness. They went on to have three dogs that battled canine cancer — including in the nasal cavity, in the intestine, and in blood vessel cells because of an aggressive and malignant type of tumor called hemangiosarcoma.

They have continued to bring their dogs back to the hospital for treatment, even though they could have taken them to other veterinary hospitals or colleges. 

The Apffels, who started giving to the hospital after they lost Nick, explained that the veterinary college distinguishes itself with its dedication and attention to animals, from the veterinarians to the students.

Since their bouts of canine cancer, their personal mission has been to prevent others from having the same ordeal. Not only have they been giving annually to various hospital funds, they have also left their estate to the hospital.

In addition, the Apffels are currently funding Dervisis’ research on hemangiosarcoma. Their dog, Courtney, died suddenly and it was later discovered she had this form of cancer. 

“If this money leads to a cure for an animal, then that researcher can then take this and take it to the human side,” Kathy Apffel said.

For more information about how donors are “partners in healing” at the veterinary college, read the full article in the latest issue of the college’s TRACKS magazine.

Written by Courtney Sibiga, assistant director of development at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine

Make a gift

Gifts to the hospital have provided facility improvements, groundbreaking clinical research, and state-of-the-art equipment. Philanthropy has expanded innovative treatments that improve animal lives.

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