How veterinary medicine can save the world, Part 3: Serving the public - DVM
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How veterinary medicine can save the world, Part 3: Serving the public
Natural disasters. Disease outbreaks. Terrorist bombings. When crisis hits, these veterinarians are on the scene.


Silence of the lambs

Dr. Lorna Lanman rescues a dog from a home after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.
Lorna Lanman, DVM, discovered her passion for public service after she retired to Sun City, Ariz., in 1995. Actually, "retired" isn't the right word, although that's how she describes her life since selling the three practices she owned in Illinois for more than two decades. Four years after "retiring," she was on a Veterinary Medical Assistance Team—a program run by the American Veterinary Medical Association—and deployed to Houston for Hurricane Floyd. That was followed by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, several wildfires in the Southwest, the World Special Olympic Games in Alaska, the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, an avian influenza outbreak in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City.

On April 25, 2001, foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) brought Lanman across the sea to the north of England—the source of a world outbreak. The USDA didn't just send her to help manage FMD in livestock, though she did plenty of that. They also wanted her to report on the effects on people: farmers, volunteers, public health workers, veterinarians. Should an outbreak occur in the United States, they wanted to be ready.

"I grew up on a farm in Illinois and I know how attached we were to our animals," Lanman says. "One farmer told us he milked his cows and turned them out, and one cow came back and stuck her head in the door and bellowed at him. He wondered what was wrong with her, so he let her come back in and she went to her stanchion. He got his thermometer out and stuck it up her rectum and she had an elevated temperature. He got scared. He went around to look in her mouth and he said it felt like he was walking a mile to get around her. When he opened her mouth and saw that lesion, he told us he just cried."

According to her written account, Lanman and the other veterinary volunteers were issued Tyvek suits, waterproof rubber suits to wear over the Tyvek, rubber gloves, rubber boots, cell phones, GPS units, surgical supplies and waterproof notebooks, all fitting the highly contagious nature of the disease that paralyzed the nation. The British government was so worried about the spread of FMD that roads were cut off through the north, causing the Lake District to lose its entire tourist season.

In fact, the economic damage from the U.K. outbreak was estimated at $12 billion, according to a University of Newcastle study. The tourism industry alone lost $390 million, according to the BBC. The economic role of veterinarians in a foot-and-mouth disease crisis can't be underestimated. A 2001 article in Science suggested that during the first two months of the outbreak, a one-week delay in diagnosing the disease can cost a nation $1.7 billion dollars.

As staggering as they are, the numbers don't capture the nature of Lanman's work in England. "One day I helped them put a thousand lambs to sleep and 200 ewes," she says. "Then we went to another farm and put 200 head of cattle to sleep. They had 10 million animals total killed off. That's a lot of carcasses. There was blood in the water supply. The pyres on the farms put toxic smoke in the air."

The human toll was devastating as well. The farmer Lanman described who cried after finding his first lesion was racked with guilt, she says. He knew he had to call and report what he'd found, so he did. The authorities came and killed all his livestock. Then they visited his neighbors as well.

"One guy hanged himself," Lanman recalls. "He felt guilty that he had brought the virus home to his family's farm and then all the farms around their farm got taken out. He was guilt-ridden and he hung himself. And he was a young guy.

"One farmer told me what they hated most was the silence when all the lambs were gone," she continues. "You drove through that northern area where all those farms were and there was just nothing out in the field."

The month Lanman spent in England, she says, helped prepare her for the 9/11 deployment. She thinks the foot-and-mouth outbreak made her a stronger person—but not a hardened person. "As veterinarians, we deal with life and death every day," she says. "We do our job as best we can."

Her job in New York after 9/11 was to care for search dogs sifting through a landfill full of debris from the World Trade Center. She set up a veterinary clinic on the site to care for and decontaminate the teams of recovery dogs busy searching the rubble for human body parts. The parts those dogs found resulted in the identification of 300 people.

As if all that action—and more—weren't enough, Lanman started a mobile practice in 2004 in Arizona, then moved into a building in 2007. "I actually did retire in 1994," she contends. "I planned to play a lot of golf." Instead, she's doing things like trapping cats after the Moore, Okla., tornado this summer. One family came through looking for their cat during the day and she trapped it that night. "People who lose their home also lose their pets," she says. "It's a great feeling when you can reunite them."


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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