VTH Small Animal Internal Medicine Service Opens Hemodialysis Unit

July 22, 2016

The Small Animal Hospital’s first hemodialysis patient, named Brinley, was cared for by (left-right) Dr. Larry Adams, Dr. Sarah Steinbach, Versa Technologist Debbie Ramirez and Small Animal Medicine Technologist Julie Commons, with the support of all the hospital staff.

The Small Animal Hospital’s first hemodialysis patient, Brinley, was cared for by (left-right) Dr. Larry Adams, Dr. Sarah Steinbach, Versa Technologist Debbie Ramirez and Small Animal Medicine Technologist Julie Commons, with the support of all the hospital staff.

By Kelsey Johnson, PVM Summer Communications Intern

The Purdue Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s Small Animal Hospital (SAH) is now offering a new treatment option with the opening of its first hemodialysis unit, which is run by Dr. Sarah Steinbach, assistant professor of small animal internal medicine, and Dr. Larry Adams, professor and co-section head of small animal internal medicine, along with the support of the entire small animal internal medicine team. The hemodialysis machine was acquired by the Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH) in conjunction with Dr. Steinbach’s faculty appointment in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences last fall.

Dr. Steinbach had already started a veterinary hemodialysis service at her former university in Germany and came to the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine with the specific goal of offering this service at the VTH. Dr. Adams previously had undertaken a sabbatical to learn about the process. “I did a sabbatical focused on hemodialysis that involved learning the different options,” said Dr. Adams. “I went to a dialysis unit in Bern, Switzerland where I had a lot of training.”  Both are enthusiastic to offer this treatment option in the SAH to help animals with kidney disease and to advance veterinary knowledge through research in this area.

The first patient to receive hemodialysis in the SAH was Brinley, a Bernese Mountain Dog with congenital kidney disease. Brinley was born with renal dysplasia, a defect that causes the kidneys to malfunction and creatinine levels to soar to unsafe levels. To keep creatinine levels in check, Brinley came in every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:30 and got examined and weighed.  Results of this examination and basic bloodwork were used to plan the treatment. Then, once he and the team were ready, he was hooked up to the hemodialysis machine. Through a special catheter, blood would flow through the hemodialysis machine and the artificial kidney (dialyzer). With the help of dialysate, which is produced by the machine using filtered water, unwanted waste products were removed from Brinley’s blood.

Dr. Steinbach said that Brinley is a special hemodialysis patient because of his chronic illness. “Normally when we use hemodialysis to treat patients, it’s for animals with acute kidney injury,” Dr. Steinbach explained. “Animals that are ill with failing kidneys due to leptospirosis, other infectious diseases or toxins can undergo dialysis while the kidneys are regenerating, with the hope that at some point the kidney can take over functioning again.” In Brinley’s case, the kidney function will not recover and he is need of hemodialysis to improve his quality of life. Luckily, Brinley’s owner has pet insurance covering large parts of his treatment. “He has been a very cooperative patient and always enjoyed coming to the hospital to have his ‘blood cleaned’ and that obviously facilitates treatment. Unfortunately, his disease has severely progressed and it is unsure how long treatment can continue. Quality of life has highest priority in these patients,” said Dr. Steinbach.

The Purdue Veterinary Hemodialysis Service was very fortunate to be able to treat Brinley as the unit’s first case, according to Dr. Steinbach.  “We could learn a lot from his repeat treatments (as of now he received 32 treatments) and the recurring hemodialysis sessions also helped us to train staff members and improve our routines. This all will benefit future patients undergoing hemodialysis.” 

Writer: Kelsey Johnson, pvmnews@purdue.edu

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