Farm animals Gifts Medicine Technology

Grateful pig owner gives gift of sight to Cornell’s future animal patients

TrixieHours before she was scheduled to leave for vacation, Dr. Nita Irby received a distressed call in the ophthalmology service. Trixie, a beloved miniature potbellied pig, was suffering from an undiagnosed painful eye problem that had been ongoing for several months. Irby agreed to see the pig and in May 2011 Kathy Ruttenberg, a successful artist hugely inspired by her relationships with her adored pets, drove Trixie four hours to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals (CUHA).

“Trixie was squinting, had a great deal of tears from her eye, and was clearly in pain,” said Irby. “Examining her eye, we found a small, shallow ulcer scarring on the eye and hairs trapped in the eye that might have been causing ulcers. We carefully removed the hairs and Trixie improved within days.”

Unfortunately, a week or so after the eye healed it became painful once again and Trixie returned to the CUHA for a second examination.

“We found nothing abnormal other than a small ulcer at a new location on the eye,” said Irby. “But her hair coat appeared unhealthy and her skin seemed abnormally scaly. Dr. Danny Scott in dermatology diagnosed congenital ichthyosis and prescribed colloidal oatmeal baths and nutritional supplements. In follow-up appointments Trixie’s coat has been looking great. At her last visit the Zeiss operating microscope was used to carefully examine the eye and diagnose a qualitative tear film deficiency. Although Trixie’s eye has continued to cause intermittent painful episodes, we hope to see an improvement over the next four to six weeks as the new medication we prescribed begins to work.”

“From the moment I first called, Dr. Irby was there for us”, said Ruttenberg, who contacted the Hospital wanting to donate in Irby’s honor shortly after the initial visit and soon decided to fund the purchase of a new phacoemulsification machine used by the ophthalmology service for cataract removal surgery.

“Shortly after Trixie’s initial visit, the ophthalmology service discovered a major potential hardship,” said Irby. “Ophthalmology provides a life-changing service by removing cataracts from dogs, cats, horses, and many other animal species to restore sight to animals blinded by cataracts. The surgery requires a phacoemulsification machine, the same device used on humans that utilizes ultrasound to break apart the lens and remove the pieces from the eye. The manufacturer was phasing out our model and would soon stop making the packs we needed to ensure each patient has a new, sterile setup for surgery. We had no money to upgrade to a new machine. The very next day after hearing that we could not purchase the new machine Kathy asked me how she could provide more support to us. Our new machine has been ordered and will arrive any day. Kathy’s gift will help restore vision to many, many animals now and in the future.”

Ruttenberg is well known for her love of animals, which has been the subject of several news articles, including one in The New York Timescovering her habit of sleeping with Trixie and others from her menagerie of 70 animals in her mountain home in upstate N.Y. Her generous gift to CUHA will help many animals live better quality lives.

“Dr. Irby exudes such positive energy,” said Ruttenberg. “We need more good vets like her, and I wanted to give a gift in her honor. Cornell’s hospital strongly impressed me with its professionalism and warmth. Everyone was so nice and knowledgeable and clearly adored animals. From the technicians and staff to the students and faculty, they were patient talking me through things and sharing my care for Trixie. There is nowhere else in the world I would leave my pig.”


Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine News

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